December 2018: Alabama Freedom Ride
Welcome one and all to my semi annual Bike adventure. For the next seven days I will update you on this great cycling adventure.
Many of you followed my previous bike adventures of 250 Miles in Maine 8/17, 440 Miles in New Orleans 1/18 and 350 from NY-MD 8/18
The list of followers has grown, mostly by choice. For the next 7 days I will be sharing the scenery, food and experience of my ride to and from Birmingham, Alabama in one email at the end of each day. (As the first, this will be a bit longer than future emails.)
If for any reason you would like to opt out, simply reply anytime and tell me. No questions asked, no offense taken.
The Route – I call this the Freedom Ride because I will be riding through significant historical Civil Rights areas in the great state of Alabama.
The route is roughly 375 Miles, Some hills in the Southern Appalachians and then and mostly flat. The trip is scheduled for 7 days of mostly 50 – 65 Miles per day I will carry only about 25 pounds of stuff and stay at Airbnb homes along the way. The City schedule is as follows;
Sunday: Birmingham – Waldo/Talledega
Monday: Waldo – Dadeville
Tuesday: Dadeville – Montgomery
Wednesday: Montgomery – Selma
Thursday: Selma – Greensboro
Friday: Greensboro – Tuscaloosa
Saturday; Tuscaloosa to Birmingham (My Birthday is that day so it’s a great way to celebrate!)
I picked the South because the temperatures should be pleasant riding weather around 50F/10C and there is only slight chance of rain. Seems to be working out now that last week’s storm has past.
The Bike – This trip is on a folding bikes since I had to travel to the location. I have recently upgraded my Dahon folding road bike which I bought just for this purpose. This bike has been excellently set up by the guys at Toga Bikes in Manhattan. Thanks guys. There is a pic below.
Skip this next paragraph if bike talk bores you.
The bike is a folding Aluminum Dahon 30th Anniversary Replica with a carbon fork and a Sram Dual Drive that carries 3 speeds in the hub. I have upgraded the Shimano cassette, rear derailleur, brakes and shifters all to SRAM Force. I now carry 33 useable speeds.
The Dedication – For those who don’t know, after many years Van finally was sworn in as a US Citizen last Friday. Yes, folks she is now a full fledged AMERIVAN! (Pic Below) She will join me on Xmas eve in Birmingham to visit the Civil Rights museums and celebrate.
Pictures and food to follow.
Today’s Journey – Today I started at 10:00 AM. Thanks to a YPO friend, I was blessed with making contact with a local riding buddy for the day. (Also an Entrepreneur.) Alex picked me up from my Airbnb in the AM and we staged at his house. He was kind enough to feed me with an egg sandwich. He provided a donut as well but the crispy creme was promptly stolen by his very satisfied dog Biscuit. I had no idea that hungry dogs would be the theme for the day.
Here is Alex and bikes. His is a light S-Works Carbon Fiber road bike which is about 33 pounds lighter than mine. Mine is closest to Alex.
Ready to go!
There was a lot more climbing today than I expected. Most of the time it was gentle but there were about 3 major climbs that rivaled Tunnel and Headlands in the San Francisco Bay Area. The new gears are great but it will probably take me all week to get them dialed in.I am still not consistently sticking in my top climbing gear which would have been helpful today.
Somewhere between mile 9 and 15, the first battle casualty occurred. Sadly I lost my Bike computer because the clip had broken and I did not tape it well. It wasn’t super expensive but it was convenient. Luckily the MapMy Ride app on my phone would suffice for the week.
When I got to the top of the hill I saw this and thought, hmm I felt like a mountain goat this morning.
Sure they look cute…
But apparently they are vicious!!!
Most of our trip through the Appalachians looked like this stretch of forest.
At about 43 miles in, at 1:30PM we reached the Logan Dam on the Warrior River. We had a quick snack stop on the available helipad. I bring with me dried Vietnamese Bananas. Best bike snack ever. Sadly Alex had to turn around and head home. He would finish out 3.5 hours later at 87 miles.
There is a lot of poverty and vacancy in this part of the South. On the way to, and inside Talladega I would see closed shops like this. While rustic and charming, they do represent the economic difficulties down here.
At about 3:15 PM after 64.5 miles and no lunch stop. (Couldn’t find one.) I finally arrived at my first stop. The outside wasn’t much to look at…
But the inside was awesome.
And the porch view was lovely.
There wasn’t much open in the area on Sunday, so Pizza was the order of the day. I was plenty hungry. till I craved some local food so…
I got some at the perfect Southern supplier, the Gas station. I was thrilled to pick up this local delicacy.
And of course add to it the Southern staples.
Well, the first day is done. I am fed, got leftovers for the morning and it’s early enough for a good night sleep.
Before I do though, here is the Dog thing. Back in Louisiana I got chased twice by dogs. Scary, maybe. Today I was chased 5 times. They are fast! Upwards of 15 – 20 miles an hour!! Alex would squirt them with his water bottle which helped a bit but once on my own my camelback didn’t have a squirting feature.
By the last time I wondered if they don’t really attack. They just like to chase and bark. It’s a bit scary but the conventional wisdom is to actually stop and wave the bike which will scare the dogs. Just another obstacle to overcome.
Miles Today: 64.5
Total Miles So Far: 64.5
Miles to Go: 310
Ride Time: 5 hours
Calories Consumed: 3500
Calories Burned: 2900
Tomorrow is a 60 mile ride to Dadeville with a very cool lunch stop.
People often ask me if Day 1 is the toughest. When I think about it, it’s probably day 2. I’m not really in the groove yet and I am suffering a bit of soreness from day 3. It takes me a day or so to get a rhythm for getting out of the house in the morning. 2 hours today. 4. Add to that today had a fair amount of elevation and was a long ride. Tough day, but very satisfying.
The reason for the rhyming title is that I spent most of my day dodging logging trucks and of course dealing with the dog problem. Luckily most of the logging trucks went out of their way to avoid me. Not so much with the dogs.
Apparently there are no leash laws in most of Alabama which is why all these dogs are free to chase anything that comes by their purview. I thought about filing a squirt gun with ammonia, but I figured some guy seeing me pointing a gun at his dog would not go over well here in Alabama. I am pretty sure their guns would not be plastic.
After consulting the Internet, I learned that the surest way to deal with dogs chasing and attacking was to stop the bike, get off, and then standing behind the bike, yell at the dog. Doing this makes you the Alpha dog and makes you less interesting.
It felt a little counterintuitive and disconcerting to confront a vicious barking dog but that is what many said on the Internet so it must be true. 😛
It didn’t take long to find out the truth.
I left at 9:00AM and two houses down were 3 yellow labs in the road waiting for me. They started charging and barking so I quickly got off the bike standing behind it. I loudly yelled: “GIT!!!” (This is Alabaman for the NYC phrase “Leave me the F**K alone!!!!
Much to my shock… IT WORKED!!! They all backed up and eventually ran back up the drive. I couldn’t believe it. It happened again and again! 8 times in my first hour of riding in fact. The only downside was I had to get off the bike every time and walk it down the path a bit. The only stubborn dogs were a couple of bitches who had just had litters so they were protective. But even then I just had to move slower.
So now I had the key. It made the ride much less stressful. But it also made it a bit longer since I actually had 20 dog encounters today delaying me probably about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Still it was better than being the bunny in a greyhound race.
There were a few other obstacles today. The first was this bridge that was closed. It took me few minutes to realize that I could get around the gates…
And I did catch a nice view of the river.
I thought this was cool. It’s for walking around horses or cows without a field or ring.
Most of the Talladega forest looked like this. except that there was litter everywhere. Mostly beer cans. I saw so many on the side of the road…
…that I am now convinced this may be the new flag for the great state of Alabama.
So I made my way through the forest, the litter, the hills and the dogs until I came across this one…
I rolled the bike slowly and nervously and then realized that he was super old and just sunning himself. I was the least of his concerns
Just when I finally started to get into a groove, Google decided to mess with me by sending me on dirt roads like this…
And worse, this…
Normally I try to find a way around these, especially when they have mud holes like this…
But today I just toughed it out. Luckily the dirt was packed red clay and rideable. It had dried out from the rains a few days ago and wasn’t like that horrible Bayou mud in Louisiana. All in all I rode through about 4 miles today of hilly dirt. It’s good prep for my L’Eroica race this Spring. (More about that on day 7.)
I often came by little shacks hiding in the forest.
I also saw more rivers…
Lots and lots of Baptist Churches in the middle of nowhere, (How can they all be the First Baptist Church? Isn’t there a number 2 somewhere that tries harder?)
And more rivers. At this one I noticed something special…
Me! Apparnetly I had picked up a battle scar. No it wasn’t a dog bite. It was a scrape from getting off my bike to yell GIT!!! to the dog.
Finally at 1:00PM I arrived at lunch on mile 41. General’s Cafe in Daviston. Famous all over for their fried okra!
Being in the South I started with a 32 ouncer of Dr. Pepper. After all those hills sugar tasted real good. Turns out it was an endless cup.
Then the meal: Grilled catfish, hush puppies, cornbread, purple peas and of course the fried okra.
Now that I was full of protein, carbs, sugar and caffeine, (The perfect biking cocktail) it was time to hit the road for the last 38 miles.
There are too many of these historical signs to show you. I try and read them when I can.
And sometimes I actually pass the sites.
The last 20 miles were uneventful. In fact my last 2 hours were practically dog-less. I did have to finish out with a couple of big hills before finally sliding into my Dadeville airbnb just before sunset at 4:25PM
I showered and changed and got a ride to dinner from my host’s room mate. Not a huge selection of restaurants open on Monday but I did get to sample some local brew called Truck Stop Honey.
And finished strong with a Cheeseburger with Cajun Tater Tots.
All in all a hard day but a good day. The weather was sunny and about 60. I was able to ride in shorts and short sleeves. By tomorrow I should be settled in and there should be fewer hills.
Here are the Day 2 Stats:
Miles Today: 67.8
Total Miles So Far: 132.3
Miles to Go: 242.60
Ride Time: 6.5 hours
Total Ride time 11.5 hours
Elevation climbed today: 3255
Total Elevation: 5995
Calories Consumed: 2900
Total Calories Consumed 6400
Calories Burned: 3500
Total Calories Burned 6400
Dog encounters today 20
Total dog encounters 25
Tomorrow I ride to Montgomery. Should be about 50 miles. Weather looks good.
Hopefully this will be the last talk about dogs. First, apparently a needed clarification. All the dogs yesterday were not strays. They all belonged to the homes I passed. Apparently having loose dogs is only a thing in the Talladega area of Alabama. Today I had ZERO dog encounters. All the dogs I saw were either on leash or behind fences.
I left at 9:30AM this morning looking forward to a slightly easier day. The miles were fewer and the elevation was much less, but little did I know nearly all the climbing would be concentrated in the first 20 miles. That made for some steep climbing.
It all would have been fine if there had been breakfast. Good thing I had some dried bananas.
The forest views were nice as well.
At one point when I got near the south end of Lake martin I passed a sign that said overlook. I was on a tear so at first I just zoomed by. But I stopped and turned back. I sometimes get focused on going point to point and forget that part of the fun of these rides is to sightsee in areas I may never return.
So I turned.
Now I should have realized if something is called Overlook Drive it’s bound to be uphill, and it was indeed the biggest and steepest hill of the day. It was a crappy road and so steep I had to walk up a bit. But the view was totally worth it.
Here is the bird’s eye view of Lake Martin and the land beyond
Apparently this area was a favorite song topic for Hank Williams in case any of you are country music fans.
When I got back down the hill I was treated to the ruins of the previous bridge. It reminded me of Roman ruins.
The downstream side of the Tallapoosa river was lovely.
After 28 grueling miles I was super hungry and arrived in the only town with a lunch stop… Eclectic, Alabama!
The only place to eat was a Mexican Restaurant called the Cozumel Cafe. Considering the lack of diversity I had experienced so far on the road, I wondered if that was what made this town eclectic.
I found a different answer.
The bike always attracts attention at my lunch stops and today was no exception. I made these new friends outside. From left to right…
Will, Joy, Austin and Ken. They had many questions but Ken asked my favorite…
Ken: (In a deep drawl) So do you carry a pistol for protection?
Me: (In my head) Hmmm, should I be packin heat?
I actually said: It’s all good. perfectly safe except for the dogs.
The thing about these rides is that great food is worth the ride, but even so so meals taste awesome when you are burning 4000+ calories a day. I easily wolfed down a burrito with chile con carne, a beef taco and some guacomole.
oh and don’t forget the Dr. Pepper. For those who wonder about the soda/obesity issues in the south, I had barely started on this 32 ouncer when the waiter simply brought me a second one. (Which I did NOT drink.
All gassed up and ready to go I got back on the road. I hit my final hill and last dirt road (Thanks Google) a few miles out. I did however get to see them loading a logging truck. I stopped to ask them about their load since the trees looked to small for lumber. Apparently much of the logging is pine that heads to paper mills.
On a business note, a quick tip to the EOers and YPOers on the list. There may be some undiscovered membership opportunities down here.
Soon I was headed down to the flats. Once at the bottom of the hill I discovered marsh land that bears a strong resemblance to the bayou in Louisiana.
It makes for interesting scenery like this…
But is sadly often interrupted by a litter patch or what I now refer to as an Alabama garden.
I also noticed a lot of loose cotton on the road, yet no cotton fields to speak of. I assume the cotton was blowing off the transport trucks. That or a few Santas exploded.
At 4:00PM at mile 57 I arrived at my Airbnb. A lovely landmarked converted to rooms and biergarten.
I parked the bike and was treated to a much needed beer.
After a quick shower I headed out to see the sights of Montgomery. It’s a charming little town for a capitol city. The historic capitol looks great at night..
I walked over to a great restaurant called Central where I treated myself to Deviled Eggs with Caviar and Pork belly…
Blackened Flounder with a Succotash of Black Eyed Peas, Collard Greens, Okra, Corn and Crawfish…
Finishing with Beignets with bacon, maple syrup and chocolate fudge
I got back and the Biergarten that night was hosting the friends and family of local guy Chris who was a finalist on The Voice so I watched. (He got third place)
It was a solid day and I am glad the hills and dogs are done for a while.
Here are the Day 3 Stats:
Miles Today: 57.0
Total Miles So Far: 180.3
Miles to Go: 186
Ride Time: 5.5 hours
Total Ride time 17 hours
Elevation climbed today: 2503
Total Elevation: 8498
Calories Consumed: 2500
Total Calories Consumed 8900
Calories Burned: 4500
Total Calories Burned 10,900
Dog encounters today 0
Total dog encounters 25
So far the weather is still holding up. Tomorrow I travel the reverse path of the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery.
I may be in Selma for 2 days if the rain comes in Thursday as planned.
Today was the ride from Montgomery to Selma. I left at 9:45 and headed out through back roads. It was a much lighter day today. Less than half the elevation and no dirt roads. Only 1 dog encounter and he was blocked by cars as he tried to chase so I did not have to stop. I was able to cruise around 15 MPH for mot of the ride which meant less seat time.
The famous march was primarily on Highway 80 but the easiest riding and best scenery is off the beaten path so I grabbed the road less traveled whenever possible.
The side roads allowed for beautiful scenery like this
Much of Alabama this time of year is brown but there are lovely patches of green every time I pass a turf farm. Or as I refer to it, the young golfer’s Santa’s workshop.
If you wondered where all the parts for Hyundai and Kia cars in the US are made, here you go. It took me a good few minutes to ride by the entire campus.
Here is a sign you don’t see much of in Alabama.
In case you haven’t yet planned your next veggie vacation. Gilroy has nothin on Burkeville.
I did get on 80 for a stretch and saw several signs honoring the March.
I also saw a bit of holiday spirit.
At 28 miles and 2 hours in, I stopped at the only lunch spot between my points. This one was known for biscuits.
I probably don’t really need to lock the bike, but it does keep it from falling over and gives me a little peace of mind while taking a break.
Lunch was classic southern comfort food. I had the special – meat with three sides. Fried Chicken, steamed okra, rutabega and turnip greens. of course it comes with cornbread.
Still hungry, I sampled their famous biscuit with sausage gravy and finished with buttermilk pie. No Dr.Pepper this early, just good old diner coffee.
After lunch while I was getting back on the bike I noticed something odd. Apparently I had left my camelback in Montgomery. I guess the ride was so easy I had no need for water. It was a bit disconcerting to have forgotten something so obvious but no harm was done. I will pick it up when I go back to Montgomery with Van next week. In the meantime, I have created a morning checklist on my phone to keep my old age from getting in the way again.
About halfway between Selma and Montgomery on 8- they have built a lovely new interpretive center to honor the march. Van and I will visit This next week.
Here is why I hate riding on 80. It’s 4 lane highway and there is no shoulder. Most of it is grooved right next to the line so I have to ride in the car lane. Luckily the traffic is fairly light and most of the cars and trucks move to the far left when they see me. Still it can be unnerving. The buzz is also annoying so when I am on the highway I bust out the tunes.
I looked up Alabama native singers and decided that I could not stomach several hours of Hank Williams and Lionel Richie. I chose a soulful approach with john Legend and Aretha Franklin instead.
About 10 miles out of Selma I was back on side roads. This house is typical of some of the poorer neighborhoods.
This building was one of practically an entire ghost town. Anyone looking for an investment? Perfect for fix and flip.
I was now in the heart of the Black Belt area known for it’s rich soil. You can see it in the darkness of the river.
That’s why this is the land of cotton. Most of the fields have been clipped but there are a few where you get a sense.
I stumbled across these bundles ready for shipping. Raw socks and t-shirts anyone?
I often see strange road signs. This is a new one for me. My best guess is: “Female with landing strip ahead”
Still pondering if this is advertising for a Chinese person that repairs vehicles or if they only repair Chinese vehicles.
I had no idea they were so prevalent here. (Either one.)
Sometimes I just stop for the beauty of things.
At 51 miles I made it to Selma…
And crossed the famous bridge… So much history…
And beauty from the top of the bridge.
After a quick shower I walked 3 miles through town to one of only two decent restaurants. On the way I found this odd store.
I suppose it makes sense ultimately…
My dinner spot for the evening was in a charming log cabin steak house built in the 20s on the edge of town.
I started with a much deserved martini
Followed by their well recommended fried artichokes
The main course and sides was a prime ribeye, (Medium rare of course) with sides of mushrooms and fried green tomatoes. Just gotta love the south!
I did have an odd occurrence after dinner. It started to rain so I inquired about a taxi. Uber does not seem to work here. It turns out there are no taxis in Selma.
Since i had a rain jacket, I was going to walk back the same 3 miles as there did not seem to be an alternative. Upon hearing this both the waiter and host seemed a bit panicky. They told me it was dangerous after dark. (It was barely 8PM.) I told them I walked here in the dark and I would be fine but they insisted on having Chris the busboy drive me back. I couldn’t get a straight answer as to the exact danger.
On the ride back I pressed 20-year-old Chris a bit. He told me they don’t really have many problems, even the local drug issues are marijuana, not narcotics. But he said there is still a paranoia that is race based in town. He is white btw and says he used to walk that route every night and never had an issue. I myself passed several people of color on my walk and they all were polite and friendly. I never felt uncomfortable.
It appears parts of the deep south still struggle.
Everything in Selma shuts down at 9PM and there are no bars or clubs. Small town feel.
As for the ride, it was nice to have a lighter day. Although the flats made for a bit of numbness in my seat and hands, i still had lots of leg at the end of the day.
Here are the Day 4 Stats:
Miles Today: 51.5
Total Miles So Far: 231.8
Miles to Go: 135
Ride Time: 4.5 hours
Total Ride time 21.5 hours
Elevation climbed today: 1,522
Total Elevation: 10,020
Calories Consumed: 2,930
Total Calories Consumed 11,830
Calories Burned: 3,200
Total Calories Burned 14,100
Dog encounters today 1
Total dog encounters 26
According to the Dark Skies app the impending storm is moving a bit faster than expected. I have to wait until the morning, but odds are better than 70% I will catch a break and be on the road tomorrow.
Should I or shouldn’t I? That was the question I went to bed with in Selma as it stormed all night. The Dark Clouds App was indeterminate about rain on Thursday when I went to sleep. When I woke up at 7:30AM, the app showed the rain stopping at 10AM and staying clear or at the most misty for the rest of the day.
The ride was ON! I was glad not to have to spend another day in Selma and also not to rearrange all my airbnb reservations. So I suited up and prepped for a little rain just in case.
Here is what that looks like. I have a cover for the back rack and one for the front pack. I have fleeced waterproof spats and a rain jacket which is somewhat breathable. (None truly are.) Everything else on the bike is essentially waterproof including my Brooks Cambium seat made of vulcanized rubber with treated cotton fabric.
I have an iPhone X which is waterproof and lights all around for visibility so everything was ready.
I took off from Selma headed for Greensboro prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best.
For the most part the rain had stopped. There would be at most a light sprinkle or mist for the first hour and the roads were flat.
While that sounds pleasant enough it does present a bit of discomfort since adding 15 – 17 mph to light rain and mist makes it quite a wet ride. The biggest problem is that the glasses have no effective wipers.
I struggled with taking them off since I really like having my rear view mirror. Finally it dawned on me to simply take out the lenses. I continue to learn something new on every trip.
Now that I could see both front and back, I was treated to incredible beauty.
I hadn’t expected much in this area after yesterday’s ride but I soon discovered one beautiful scene after another.
At one point I came across a bridge where the view was worth every bit of wet uncomfortable riding.
It was moss covered like a fairyland
Both sides of the bridge were astounding…
The pictures truly don’t do it justice. It was so magical I stopped for a while taking it in. There wasn’t a car for miles so it was quiet and peaceful.
I would have stayed and meditated for hours if I could.
Finally back on the road google decided I should go mud-wamping.
I on the other hand said forget it and found a longer paved and more historic way on Hwy 45.
As I came into Marion and happened across one of the oldest military schools founded in 1842. I must say it immediately reminded me of the movie Taps with Tom Cruise and George C.Scott.
Marion was a charming town with it’s county courthouse sitting in the town square.
At noon on mile 28, I stopped for 2 hours. Hour 1 was for a biz call with my team. (Yes I actually work sometimes on these trips.) and then broke for lunch at Lottie”s cafe.
I feasted on grilled catfish and whiting accompanied by Texas toast, fried okra and homemade mac and cheese.
While finishing up on a piece of sweet potato pie, a big sports conversation broke out among the locals. It got loud and boisterous so I joined in with the NY perspective. It was a bit like being in a Tyler Perry movie. Lot’s of fun.
The post lunch ride was mostly uneventful. I stayed in my rain gear. The temp was about 50 so it was cold enough to keeping me from over sweating. Any warmer and I would have been soaked inside and out.
On the road I was constantly being sized up by other locals who found me udderly ridiculous.
There were so many baptist churches, many with rich history.
Apparently they coordinated early on.
I realized after this picture my lens was misty. Sorry.
I cleaned it just in time to hit Greensboro where I saw beautiful houses and a few monster plantation homes.
The town and town hall look just as you would expect in the south. I stopped on Main St. for a mocha and a little local conversation with the cafe owner Mo.
After a little google confusion, I finally made it to my Airbnb where I was able to wash the grime and mud off the bike before regreasing the chain. Rust is one of the post rain ride worries.
My host had a lovely plate of sweets waiting for me.
A I cleaned up, my shoes had taken the biggest toll. The spats help a bit with warmth but water still comes in underneath so my shoes and socks were wet. The merino wool socks did a great job of keeping my feet warm in the wet, but apparently they bled dye on me as well.
After a quick shower I was off to dinner. I was going to walk the 3 miles down the highway but my host insisted that would b
e dangerous with the traffic and gave me their car.
Earlier Mo had suggested this place. It had zero reviews on Yelp but I was happy for the local knowledge. It’s a restaurant inside a gas station/convenience store.
It definitely had a local vibe.
I grabbed a booth and started in on the jar of locally pickled hot peppers at my table. Yum!
I then had the pulled pork special with you guessed it, Fried Okra and Mac & Cheese ( a theme today.) The hush puppies were some of the best I ever had.
This tie I took the sweet potato pie to go.
Back at the room I dried my shoes on the heater and tucked in to the pie with a much needed glass of Wild Turkey
Shortest ride today but the wetness made for a long day. Weather looks clear for the remaining days. Only 2 days to go. Glad to have the rain behind me.
Here are the Day 5 Stats:
Miles Today: 47.5
Total Miles So Far: 279.3
Miles to Go: 115
Ride Time: 4.75 hours
Total Ride time 26.25 hours
Elevation climbed today: 1,379
Total Elevation: 11,399
Calories Consumed: 2,930
Total Calories Consumed 14,760
Calories Burned: 3,000
Total Calories Burned 17,100
Dog encounters today 1
Total dog encounters 27
Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year being the Winter Solstice so I will be racing the sun to Tuscaloosa.
The perfect weather for riding on tour is low wind, partially cloudy with a temp between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That was NOT my weather today. Happily there was no rain, but the cold set in for the day at about 40 – 42 degrees and stayed there. And there was some wind as well. It was warmer than my New Orleans ride but not by much.
On the bright side it was the shortest ride of the day for the shortest day of the year.
I got a little bit of a late start because my Airbnb host 92 year old Miss Janet wanted to meet me and have a conversation. It seems she is a Greensboro local who lived for quite a while in NYC. She had recently suffered a stroke and her daughter was there taking care of her. I had a delightful 30 minute conversation with them before heading over to Pie Lab.
Pie Lab is a project I had read about in a NY Times article. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/magazine/10pielab-t.html
It is a place for Pie, Art and Activism. Had to try it.
I opted for the smoked chicken wrap
And a piece of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan.
It was good but rich. I tried to finish but couldn’t do it.
So on the road I went. To brave the cold, I kept on my spats and rain jacket. The cold Louisiana ride back in January convinced me to bring foot warmers and heavier gloves which came in handy. I love when I actually use something I carry for “just in case” situations.
I spent 2/3 of the day on Hwy 69. It’s mostly 2 lane highway with no shoulder and a lot of traffic buzz. NormallyI just pop in some cool music and it settles me in. Yesterday I played Mahalia Jackson and enjoyed the gospel sound.
Unfortunately today I couldn’t get my earphones to work. They might have become a bit wet from yesterday. So I just endured. I was grateful for the times I could get off the highway and on to quiet roads.
People often ask me if it is unsafe. For the most part the cars do try and avoid me and I am visible with lights and the yellow jacket. Most disconcerting is when they honk. There really is no need, and it just startles and annoys me. I have no where to go and do not need to know they are there. They truly should focus more on giving me safe space.
For climbing, the day was largely comprised of slow rollers like this stretch below. They are actually more fun to ride than steep cliffs. The idea is to go as fast as possible on the downhill in order to have the momentum to get up the next hill. It was like this most of the day.
To get maximum speed I tuck in tight on the downhill. This helps with resistance and balance at faster speeds. Much like in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
There wasn’t a ton of interesting scenery today.
There was however the most colorful Alabama Garden I had seen yet.
At 25 miles and 1:00PM I stopped at Pam’s diner for lunch. The cold had me burning extra calories so I was easily able to finish a patty melt and curly fries along with some Dr. Pepper.
I then headed back on the Highway. I finally got off onto a county road which was supposed to go for 11 miles. Sadly at mile 2 I encountered this…
Google likes to play tricks on me all the time like this. I had to turn around and go back a mile to pick up Hwy 69 again. At least these was shoulder this time. 2 miles later I was able to pick up the same county road with 8 miles of brand new pavement. I was able to zoom through except for one obstacle… You guessed it, DOG!!! Three of them coming at me. After stopping and yelling them down I was back on the new pavement.
A word about pavement. A serious touring cyclist, eventually becomes a road connoisseur.
Here is a short list of road types and abilities:
New asphalt – The best ride – Flat speed up to 18 mph
Smooth worn asphalt – Almost as good – Flat speed up to 17 mph
Worn and pitted asphalt – Rough ride that causes numbness – Flat speed up to 14 mph
Concrete – Usually grooved also causing numbness – Flat speed up to 14 mph
Crushed Gravel – Ok when packed – Flat speed up to 12 mph
Loose Gravel – unrideable
Hard dirt – Actually pretty smooth – Flat speed up to 14 mph
Soft dirt – unrideable
Mud – unrideable
In this picture alone you can see new asphalt, used asphalt and concrete.
Google has sent me through all of these road types on this trip. And as if that isn’t enough annoyance, I often end up on weird industrial roads.
Today I started smelling horribly bad smells only to find that Google had directed me through all the Sh*t areas like this…
At about 4:00PM I made it to Tuscaloosa, home of The University of Alabama and the Crimson Tide. You could see everywhere that Football is a major priority here.
Looking for the little art community of Northport I was guided to my Airbnb by a statue I call specifically for this trip, “God’s Sense of Humor.”
I checked in at my Airbnb. My host Lynn is an artist and the place is filled with her art.
After a quick shower, I headed out to see the sights. First stop, my Fraternity house Lamda Chi Alpha. Unfortunately everyone was on vacay, but it was impressive.
Apparently Alabama is one of the oldest Chapters.
I walked 2.5 miles through the University and town to dinner stopping to learn history along the way.
Lamda Chi was on New Fraternity Row but some of the oldest houses were still across from the Stadium on the old Fraternity row. It felt a bit like Animal House.
I finally arrived at the R. Davidson Chop house for my last meal as a 53 year old. I warmed up from the walk with a much needed Hirsch Select Bourbon.
Followed by oysters and bread with pimento cheese
A grilled romaine salad with red onions, bacon bits and bleu Cheese
And then a lovely 10 oz Filet Mignon cooked to perfection at medium rare. I will say the southerners know how to cook a steak.
I needed more veggies so along with a nice Italian wine I added some fried green tomatoes with corn and bacon bits. (I will miss these back in NY.)
Then since it was almost my birthday they brought me the largest bread pudding I have ever seen. On the house of course.
I was only able to eat half, but it shore was yumm-my!
On the 2 mile walk home I crossed the Black Warrior river. Pretty at night but tough to photograph. I did however see one more interesting little piece of history.
Here is the sign…
And the house.
I really enjoyed walking the University even if I was cold. And the day was relatively painless on my body so I am grateful for that.
Here are the Day 6 Stats:
Miles Today: 46.5
Total Miles So Far: 325.8
Miles to Go: 67
Ride Time: 5 hours
Total Ride time 31.25 hours
Elevation climbed today: 2,021
Total Elevation: 13,420
Calories Consumed: 3,070
Total Calories Consumed 17,830
Calories Burned: 3,200
Total Calories Burned 20,300
Dog encounters today 1
Total dog encounters 28
Now both Winter and my birthday have officially arrived and I am ready to complete this trip.
It’s about a 67 mile ride or so back to Alex’s home in Birmingham. The day will start out cold around 38 degrees but should warm up to 55 and partially sunny. Perfect.
Alex is trying to join me for the last 30 miles so that will be a nice Birthday gift.
It felt good to start the last day on my 54th Birthday. The weather looked promising and it felt like a fun accomplishment. The ride today would be the second longest on short daylight so I needed an early start. I took off at 9:15AM, but there was no coffee at my Airbnb so a secondary stop was necessary. Oddly enough I have seen very few Starbucks anywhere in Alabama. I was able to find a juice shop just across the Black Warrior river so I took 20 minutes for a coffee and banana to get me going.
I then headed out of town back through the University passing by the Alabama Stadium or as I like to call it: The Temple to the Gods. (Roll Tide!)
The first 25 miles were uneventful. It was a bit cold but not unpleasant. It’s odd, some parts of my body that were sore all week felt great and some which were fine felt sore today. The cold tends to aggravate issues so I was happy when it left the 30s heading into the 50s.
The road was mostly 2 lane and small shoulder on Highway 11 but at least my earphones were working again, so I tapped into a Ray Charles playlist and cruised along. Sometimes I even was blessed with a decent shoulder for a few miles.
There were two important southern food experiences I was missing on this trip. One was a Waffle House which never seemed to work out. ( I might catch one next week.) The other was BBQ. Today I was committed to find a good lunch stop for some smoked meat.
I hadn’t really seen one nearby on Yelp so at 26 miles in I searched Google. Lo and behold Google actually led me to The Promised Land!!! No really, that’s what it was called! And it had 179 Five star reviews! It was on the way only about 4 miles away so I was in!
I pulled up to see just a roadside shack that had been there for over 20 years. No inside, no bathroom. I cared not.
I looked at the menu and went whole hog… and more.
Here was the awesome half rack of ribs
And the pulled pork. (Sauce was on the side.)
I had to try the brisket of course.
And because I knew I would need carbs, I indulged on an order of Chili Cheese Fries! Needless to say I could not finish it all. But I did my best and brought along a little pulled pork to share with Alex since he was on his way cycling from Birmingham to meet me.
What happened next was truly just amazing. I believe it was God’s way of providing me entertainment for my Birthday.
Now I have been careful throughout this week not to cast aspersions in the form of cheap stereotypical descriptions of Alabamans. I know there are proud Alabamans enjoying these emails and I wish to show respect for their home and hospitality.
That being said, the events that follow left me no choice but to share.
It started with this local couple that sat down with me for some BBQ. She asked about the bike and proceeded to tell me in a very thick accent,
“Ya’ll really need to be careful out there, especially today.”
“OK, Why is that?” I asked.
“All the drunks are out on the road now because it’s Garage Sale Day!” She said.
Now that in itself is funny, but does not require a telling on my part. It’s what happened next.
This young woman comes storming up to the BBQ tables visibly upset and crying into her phone. I can hear her complaining about her ex and some problem with their child. Before I know it, up rolls both a police car and a Sheriff’s car. They loudly engage with her about her domestic issues in a conversation that truly makes me feel that I have seen and heard this before on Cops Live! It went on for a while as the Sheriff went to check on the house next door and the policeman tried to explain to this woman why she couldn’t just take the child without a court order.
I carefully snapped a picture since now it was getting to be too much to be believed. Finally they all dispersed after the woman in the BBQ place came out to investigate the ruckus.
Just when I was making a final decision on whether or not to share this tonight, A young man sticks his head out the BBQ shack window and yells to me. “Hey there! Did you just hear a gunshot?!?”
It was at that point that I truly understood why the south has such a reputation and that most stereotypes have some basis in reality.
I smiled, told him I did not hear anything and went about my way with what Van refers to as my “annoying smirk.”
Back on the road I was now trying to connect with Alex. He was only about 10 miles away so we found an Iron Skillet at the junction of 11 and 216 as a meeting place. I was cycling on a very busy part of 11 so when Google suggested a side passage I jumped at it. A mile in, it turned into a packed dirt road but it was since it would be just a few miles, I kept going, until a total google SNAFU occurred. The road Google told me to turn on simply did not exist. Looking at the map there was no other way but to go back. I called Alex and told him of my delay as I reversed back through the dirt road and headed back up to 11 with Google screaming at me for U-Turns every step of the way.
1 mile down the road I understood why google was so insistent. Hwy 11 at that point dumped onto the Interstate. Now it is Illegal for a bicycle to ride along on a freeway or interstate. I had acquired this knowledge when researching the Bay bridge in Maryland hence why Anne Mary had to pick me up and drive me across the bridge.
But at this point I was already on the shoulder and fully committed. There was no turning around. While the 4 lane traffic was moving at 70 MPH (in the slow lane) I was on the far right shoulder pedaling my butt off. It was 3 miles to the exit where I knew Alex was waiting and there was no alternative at that point.
On the bright side, the shoulder was super wide so the cars were farther from me than they had been all morning on Hwy 11 and the pavement was smooth and fast. And it was mostly downhill. I screamed at about 25 MPH all the way to the exit wondering if a trooper would spot me and make me explain myself.
Luckily, I made it to the exit just fine. It was actually some of the nicest road I had all day.
I pulled into the parking lot where Alex was waiting to take this pic of me.
The weather had warmed up so I changed to shorts. We had 28 miles to go and Alex had a dinner reservation at 5:30 so we needed to push. Oh and sunset was at 4:40 so light was also a factor. We cruised along well. Alex was faster on the uphill but with my extra pack weight and the compact bike, I was faster on the downhill.
On a side note here is something for you studio spinners to consider. You can set your bikes for an equivalent uphill versus downhill. The real world doesn’t work that way. Most of my rides this week have had up and down elevation that is close to equal. However, it does not represent equal TIME going up and down.
When climbing you will go between 5 and 8 MPH depending upon steepness.
Downhill, you will go between 20 – 35 MPH depending upon steepness.
You don’t really know the steepness until you are on it since you can’t really gauge visually. But you can count on this:
At equal up and down elevation you are likely to spend 20 – 30 minutes climbing for every 5 minutes of fun sailing down the hill. Lots of hard work for a small amount of pleasure. (Insert your own metaphor here.)
In any case, with local knowledge, Alex knew we had some big steep hills in our last 7 miles so it was time for me to juice up. We stopped at a gas station so I could down a 20 ouncer of Dr. Pepper. I was already tired and would need the 250 calories and jolt of caffeine to make the final push.
Just under an hour later we made it to the top of the ridge just in time to see the sun set over Birmingham.
At about 5:00 PM, after I completed the last 65 miles, we pulled into Alex’s driveway. Tired and happy.
It was a great 7 day ride. My hardest yet. I was grateful to Alex for the support, and the company. (And the pics.)
I got settled and cleaned up so I could celebrate like a human. (Which ironically I became, 54 years ago today.)
Since now I could access my suitcase, I put on some fancy duds and went to Bistro 218 which Alex and his wife Ashley highly recommended. They were off to a show they had pre-planned but I was fine to be solo.
I was not disappointed. They have a lovely way of making a birthday special starting with this Dr. Seuss quote they put on your table.
I of course added the Clyde May Bourbon. (A unique Alabama recipe that tastes a hint like apples)
I started with a very nice bread and herbed butter.
And then a Duck Confit salad
And then the main course: Blackened Redfish over cheese grits with deep fried okra of course. Turns out B-days give you rank so I got the last order of Redfish. Much to the chagrin of the guy at the table next to me. Too bad it wasn’t his birthday. 🙂
I skipped on dessert. Honestly I was now at my food breaking point. I enjoyed feasting all week but was looking forward to calorie reduction. Waffle House can wait until my next ride in the South,
I walked over to the Atomic bar and peeked in, It looked fun but wasn’t really feeling like drinking. I did go up to the Moon Shine bar on the top of a beautiful hotel, just to see the view.
I then took Uber back to the house so I could catch up with all of you.
Here are the Day 7 and Final Stats: (I had a previous math error but rechecked my app and have now fixed it.)
Starting in Birmingham, miles by day:
Day 1 to Talladega 64.52
Day 2 to Dadeville 67.78
Day 3 to Montgomery 57.04
Day 4 to Selma 51.47
Day 5 to Greensboro 47.37
Day 6 to Tuscaloosa 46.57
Day 7 to Birmingham 65.52 (Today)
Total ride 400.27
Ride Time today: 7 hours
Total Ride time 38.25 hours
Elevation climbed today: 3,704
Total Elevation: 17,124
Calories Consumed: 2,770
Total Calories Consumed 20,600
Calories Burned: 3,500
Total Calories Burned 23,800
Dog encounters today 0
Total dog encounters 28
Final notes: This was my best and most difficult ride yet. The daily totals were above any other. But my body actually held up better. I will definitely continue these journeys. I have the equipment figured out and really enjoy the experience. I love it for the physical challenge, the people I meet, the scenery and of course the food.
Alabama has some issues but is a beautiful place with charming and kind people. It was much more than I expected.
One technical fix for next time. The bike with the new equipment performed great, but I find I am not knowledgeable enough to make the fine adjustments and never really got the climbing gear just right which would have been super helpful for this trip. When I get home I will take the bike in to get it completely cleaned and tuned, but I am going to ask Mike at Toga to let me learn how to fine tune the bike in that process. (Oh yeah, he’s on this post so I guess I just did. Thanks Mike.)
Thanks to all of you for riding along with me. And thanks for the emails of encouragement.
I hope to share a future adventure in person with you someday. (Especially you studio spinners!)
Have a great holiday and a blessed 2019. Happy New Year!
P.S. Check out L’Eroica – https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/why-leroica-is-one-of-the-best-bike-rides-in-the-world-photos-353452
I have acquired an appropriate bike which is beautiful: https://www.steel-vintage.com/catalog/product/view/id/13415
I will likely do some distance of the California version in April 2019.