Trip Log – Day 294 – Mountain Brook, AL to Birmingham AL

to BirminghamAugust 25, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 15,105

States to Date: 41

Birmingham: I was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

 Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.29.25 PMToday I got so lost I could not tell north from south, right from left. Clouds obscured the sun. The city has numbered streets in all directions. What’s the point of a sign telling me I’m at the intersection of 8th Street W and 4th Court W when I’m supposed to be Northeast? Eventually I got my bearings, found my way and met wonderful people who did not discredit my being late.

I began well enough, visiting my friends at TRO, the Birmingham branch of the firm I worked for in Boston. Then I pedaled more than ten miles to complete the five-mile distance to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. After lunch I got back on track; toured the Sloss Furnaces, an incredible preservation of the city’s industrial past; went to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where my body trembled contemplating the explosion; and took the Civil Rights walk from Kelly Ingram Park to City Hall.

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There, the lost and found metaphor sunk in. This city, the most segregated and entrenched bastion of Jim Crow in our country, was lost for so long. Yet, today Birmingham owns, even celebrates, its pivotal position in the struggle for racial equality and justice. That is not to say that opportunity is equally distributed. But how Birmingham acknowledges where it was and how it changed is a credit to all sides.

IMG_6867I pedaled to Mary’s House on the far west side (which by then I could navigate quite well) and enjoyed a community supper with Shelley and Jim Douglass, long time Catholic Worker activists, and other folks from the Ensley neighborhood. Shelley arranged for me to sleep at the local rectory, where I stayed up too late talking with Rev. Justin Nelson, a fascinating priest from India whose vocation led him to pastoring a pair of African-American Catholic Churches in Alabama.

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Trip Log – Day 293 – Anniston AL to Mountain Brook, AL

to BirminghamAugust 24, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 90 degrees

Miles Today: 78

Miles to Date: 15,077

States to Date: 41

IMG_6838 After two days of being spoiled by the Silver Comet / Chief Ladiga Trails it was hard to share the pavement with cars again. Google Maps offered a nice looking route that took me to Eulaton Gate Road, which I’ve learned is code for entering a military base. Sure enough I came up to the gate of the Anniston Depot where the friendly guard turned me around. Instead of navigating any complex on the run, I simply took US 78 all the way to Birmingham. This proved a good decision. US 78 runs parallel to I-20 so it has almost no traffic. The pavement is good and the shoulder adequate.

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IMG_6833I enjoyed Pell City, a sleeping little town where I mused about the activities that occupy downtown storefronts after Wal-Mart shifts commerce to the superstore on the highway. One result of our world full of stuff: lots of thrift shops.

 

IMG_6839The town also had some excellent examples of small-stone houses that I see all over northern Alabama.

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Trip Log – Day 291 – Piedmont AL to Anniston AL

to AnnistonAugust 23, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 29

Miles to Date: 14,970

States to Date: 41

imagesCycling through Piedmont, a town that has seen better days, reminds me of something a guy in Atlanta said. “The Civil War was the first time the 1% coerced the 99% into doing something stupid, based on the fear that they would be worse off if things changed. At least the 99% of poor whites were above the slaves.” I’m not sure if the Civil War was the first time that happened; the powerful have divided minions to control for centuries. Piedmont seems like a place where the 1% has moved beyond city limits, rending the racial differences among the folks left behind irrelevant.

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Back on the Chief Ladiga Trail I spun twenty more sweet miles until trail’s end in Anniston. Along the way I passed vines so thick they spread like cancer, cloaking each discrete piece of vegetation into a leafy contour.

IMG_6825Anniston has a classic downtown that still shows signs of life, including what may be the last extant Western Auto store, a franchise we had in my hometown over fifty years ago.

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Trip Log – Day 291 – Marietta GA to Piedmont AL

to PiedmontAugust 22, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 78

Miles to Date: 14,941

States to Date: 41

 IMG_6804My host, Ali, and I went to mile zero of the Silver Comet Trail, the biggest bicycle trailhead I’ve seen. Even on a Monday morning, the place was crowded with people and bikes, skateboarders and pet walkers. The hype about this trail is well deserved. Ali rode with me through the busiest portion, but since the trail is wide and smooth, it’s easy to navigate. After he turned back home, the natural beauty of riding through tall forest continued, as did the excellent condition of the trail.

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Around mile fifteen the pavement turns to concrete, which has more friction but turns out to be a good surface for a trail that’s in constant shade in a region of frequent rain. Despite today’s ideal conditions many wet areas remained from yesterday’s thunderstorms.

IMG_6809The first thirty miles follow an old railroad grade; slopes are minor and I stayed in high gear. Then the trail parallels, sort of, an active rail line with steep rises and fast descents. This far from the city there was no traffic in either direction or at any cross street, so I kept a pace that was both safe and exciting.

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IMG_6815At the Alabama state line, the trail returns to a former railroad right-of-way and Silver Comet becomes the Chief Ladiga Trail. The surface returns to blacktop, the path narrows to six feet wide, and the grade descends steady for almost twenty miles into Piedmont. Forests give over to small farms and distant foothills. It’s a scenic, yet easy ride.

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Trip Log – Day 290 – Atlanta GA to Marietta GA

to AtlantaAugust 21, 2016 – Partly cloudy, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 14,863

States to Date: 41

 IMG_6791I woke late to overcast skies and coasted down five flights of parking ramp from my host’s apartment to the streets of Atlanta. Atlanta is to Georgia as New York City is to upstate New York or Seattle is to western Washington. The principle city is at complete odds with its country cousins. Southern Breakfast at Bantam + Biddy is a smaller portioned, locally sourced counterpoint to the Waffle House All-Star, at twice the price. Parking lots are packed at nine on Sunday morning, not at the local church, but at LA Fitness. The Prius to pick-up ratio is flipped. I spent the morning loitering at the upscale Ansley Shopping Center in Midtown; I even indulged in a rare treat of a donut. I felt slackerlier than I do hanging at a McDonald’s because everyone around me was so purposeful in their food and fitness.

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After noon I headed off to explore Midtown, rode through Piedmont Park and went to the High Museum, mostly to see Richard Meir’s 1983 building. I suppose it was a victim of its own success, for in the 1990’s the High added a significant infill addition by Renzo Piano that pulls the museum and adjacent symphony hall together in an outdoor space currently filled with circus-like sculptures. The planning is very good, but the Meier Building is now a trinket along Peachtree Street rather than the heart of the place. I strode up the monumental ramp only to discover it doesn’t get you anywhere anymore.

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IMG_6797I headed out of town, which meant hills and more hills. I waited out a downpour on the narrow front porch of a model home in a new subdivision without triggering any security alarms. The Paces, a neighborhood of well-heeled estates, has many beautiful homes, and a few garish conceits as well. I was pleased to find a little library at one intersection, since I recently finished my paperback. I traded it out for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which seems more appropriate to my way of living then anyone who lives there.

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Trip Log – Day 289 – Decatur GA to Atlanta GA

to AtlantaAugust 20, 2016 – Sunny, 85 degrees

Miles Today: 18

Miles to Date: 14,835

States to Date: 41

My warmshowers hosts, Laura and Mike, rode me to the Carter Center to kick off my day of Atlanta sightseeing. The Jimmy Carter Library is the seventh I’ve visited along my route. Nestled in a gully, the building is unassuming as the man. The museum focuses less on Carter’s Presidency compared to the other libraries. This makes sense for a man whose single term was a mixed bag of successes overshadowed by the Iranian hostages, but who’s post-Presidential is more influential than any other.

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I cycled through some vintage Atlanta suburbs, stopped by the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site, toured downtown and Centennial Park and managed to duck indoors when a mammoth afternoon storm drenched the city.

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A pair of friends hosted me in their Midtown apartment; a sprawling complex of several hundred high-end units wrapped around a five-story parking garage. I had never seen that arrangement before; very handy to drive to the level of your unit. Bruce and DFior both work in the travel industry and fly places virtually every week. The big draw of Atlanta? Direct flights to everywhere. Fortunately for me they were home on Saturday night and cooked up pungent crab boil and braised Ox-tail.

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Trip Log – Day 288 – Athens GA to Decatur GA

to AtlantaAugust 19, 2016 – Sunny, 85 degrees

Miles Today: 67

Miles to Date: 14,817

States to Date: 41

 IMG_6762Truth in blogging: I am getting too old to drink beer at local bars with Millenial’s and then pedal hard the next day. Sure, I had elevation climbs and a steady headwind, but too much beer and too little sleep made the cycling harder.

The first leg took me through Athens verdant neighborhoods and through a series of small siding towns along one of the main railroad lines climbing to Atlanta. However, from Lawrenceville to Decatur, I simply persevered thirty miles of exurbs and suburbs and ever bigger, gaudier houses.

IMG_6767I did take a break to snack up at Aldi, a Costco meets Trader Joe’s chain I’ve seen along my routes but had never visited. Funky foods in cardboard cartons with a friendly staff.

Despite the slog, my endorphins eventually kicked in. I arrived at my hosts, showered, and enjoyed a wonderful evening sharing stories with Laura and Mike, a truly thoughtful pair who gave me a fascinating introduction to Atlanta.

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