I’m now at home comfortably behind my computer enjoying familiar surroundings and the familiar pain of our cat clawing at my leg. We just got home from a spring break trip to Alabama. I had mentioned to Shauna back in the dark cold winter that we should go somewhere nice and warm over spring break and ride our bikes. This sent Shauna into overdrive looking for the perfect place. I wanted steep hilly highways, and she wanted flat bike paths. Believe it or not you can find both of those things pretty close together in Alabama.
Right in the middle of the Talladega National Forest is Mount Cheaha the highest spot in Alabama at 2400 feet, surrounding the mountain is a state park along with a Motel and restaurant, both with amazing views. About a 45 minute drive from Mount Cheaha is the Cheif Ladiga bicycle trail, which goes from Weaver to the Georgia state line where it becomes the Silver Comet Trail.
Tonight’s post will cover our first full day in which we rode the Chief Ladiga trail. I say the first full day because we spent most of Tuesday driving. I had to admit I was disappointed at first, we drove 7 hours South trying to find warmer temperatures and instead it was the same temperature as it was when we left home. We had little trouble finding the trail even though there were no signs pointing the way, I just assumed if I drive across the small town of Weaver I’d eventually cross the trail and I did. I pulled into the parking lot and wondered if I made the right decision not bringing a gun.
I need to go back a little and explain that last statement. When Shauna found this location we were both very happy because we each got what we wanted. As Shauna did more research she found a website that recommends riders carry protection in the form of a handgun due to crimes committed on the trail against riders. I have to admit I was really freaked out about this. I don’t own a gun and have no interested in packing one around. Sure the old west is cool in movies but I don’t want to walk into a shoot out because some dude cheated at cards. We almost decided not to go.
The website in question seems to focus more on the Silver Comet Trail which goes right into Atlanta, and the 4 crimes cited as proof occurred over a 5 year period, on a bicycle trail that stretches over 100 miles. I decided not to run out and pick up a piece.
Besides the suggestion pack heat another thing that surprised me about the trail is that it is completely paved. over 100 miles of paved bicycle trail is pretty amazing to me. Sure our very own rail trail just got extended out to over 60 miles but only a few miles of it are paved, the rest is crushed limestone, which can be almost as good as pavement or like riding in quicksand.
We got moving down the trail and enjoyed several miles of a slight downhill grade and almost completely unused trail. Like all rail-trails, the Chief Ladiga has very slight grades and very gradual turns. This can be looked 0n as a good thing, or a bad thing. Since I’m a glass half empty person I’ll tell you the bad thing, you basically sit on your bike and pedal while holding the handlebars straight, it can get a little dull, especially when the scenery doesn’t change. Eventually the downhill grade changed to a very slight uphill grade, but you had to really pay attention to notice it.
Around 25 miles in we noticed that the large hills off in the distance were getting larger and that there was no way we could go around them, I was excited, Shauna wasn’t. The trail began an 8 mile stretch of slowly increasing grade, it never got hard, but both of us were beginning to feel it. Finally we reached our turn around spot, The Georgia state line, where a nice arch commemorates the imaginary line were crossing. While we were resting up for the return trip another rider approached from Georgia, I started to reach for my piece, but remembered I was a pacifist, If he was a thief I’d have to fight him off with my multi-tool.
Foruntaitly for me he was just another friendly Southerner and we talked a bit about the trail, he told us that ten miles up the trail was a hill “three stories high and straight up like a wall, no lie.” I thought about asking him how they got the train up this 30 foot cliff, or how he got over it, maybe they installed an elevator, then I remembered I was a stranger in a strange land so I said that sounded too steep for me. I didn’t mention I intended to ride up an honest to God, freaking mountain tomorrow.
About halfway back to the trail head we stopped at the Piedmont Comfort station, which had a real nice little house with some rocking chairs and a sign on the door offering to sell us cokes. We went in and filled our water bottles and bought a couple of cokes. The old guys manning the comfort station were very friendly and wanted to know all about us, they told us while Illinois was a long way we, were far from the farthest visitors. That same day a group had come through from Ontario Canada.
I told the guys I intended to ride around Mount Cheaha tomorrow and they took a long look up and down my pudgy frame, “are you sure?” the guy asked. “You’re from Illinois, that’s flat farm land, Cheaha is mountain country and very steep. Another old guy asked, “Are you in shape?”
I thought about going into a long-winded monologue about the time I climbed 10,000 feet in one day of riding in Colorado, or the time I did 5000 feet in Tennessee, or the time I did 7000 feet in one day in my “Flat farm land” home of Southern Illinois, but instead I just said, “I guess I’ll find out if I’m in shape tomorrow.” They went on to tell me all about hte big Cheaha Challenge ride and how I should come back and do it. They were friendly guys.
I have to take time to mention that Shauna kicked butt this whole ride, we kept a very respectable pace, we only stopped twice, she never complained, and only hassled me about yelling out “CLEAR!” real loud whenever we crossed roads so she wouldn’t have to deal with clicking out. I, on the other hand, whined incisively about my sore ass, while I’m usually real comfortable on my San Marco Regal, Wednesday I was suffering some major rear end pain and made sure to mention it often.
The return trip revealed that most trail users come out in the afternoon, I would never call the trail busy, but it was definitely in use, around Jacksonville we were passed by hardcore roadies in full gear, and we passed hardcore old folks in stretchy pants and handlebars that touched their chins. We saw kids roller blading and families enjoying the outdoors and it made the return trip a little more enjoyable.
66 miles after we began we were very happy to see the car come into focus, Shauna rushed to the rest room and I struck up a conversation with a guy gearing up on an impressive Felt race bike with fancy pants Zip wheels. He was super nice and when I mentioned I was riding around Mount Cheaha Thursday, but had no idea what route I’d take he proceeded to draw me a great map of a 43 mile route that he thought I would really enjoy.
We returned to our mountain top motel tired, a little sore, and very happy with our day of riding the Chief Ladiga Trail. Tune in next time when I regal you with tales of my mountain top conquest. Thanks for reading and good night.