Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Flint River Trail

The Chehaw Fat Four was this past weekend. Four hours of laps around The Parks at Chehaw in Albany. I'd been looking forward to the race all year, for three reasons, really.

The first reason is that it's put on by a bunch of friends of mine from South Georgia Cycling and though we end up doing a lot of the same races, it's unusual that I see more than two or three of them at a time or get to spend any real time with them.

Reason number two is that the trail is in South Georgia and the terrain is flat, sandy and just generally very different from everything I've been riding all year. Not that I don't love the mountains, but riding in the mountains all year makes me really love not being in the mountains.

Reason 3 is kind of odd, or at least would seem odd if you don't know me very well but makes total sense if you do.

There's this other trail in Albany that I've known about for some time called The Flint River Trail. I've never ridden it and I've always been too lazy to drive all the way to Albany just to ride it because it's only like 3 miles long or something. The trip down for the race would afford me the opportunity to ride it though, and that might just satisfy the ravenous spirit of exploration that's been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while now.

Friday morning, I packed up the car and headed south. My brother has been to Albany a dozen times for some Home Depot-related reason or other and warned me that the drive sucked horribly. I don't know though, it didn't seem all that bad to me. Maybe if you do it over and over, or if you have to do it for work or something, then it sucks but I didn't mind it at all.

When I hit town, I called Clark, thinking he might be down that way for the same reason as me but it turned out he'd tweaked out his back helping his Dad load up a grill or something.

No good!

So he wasn't racing but he could still help me out. I needed two things: directions to the Flint River Trail, and directions to somewhere good to eat, but actually in the opposite order.

The first good place to eat that he came up with was Riverside BBQ. I generally love BBQ but not if I'm about to ride, so I asked again and he directed me to Harvest Moon which turned out to be a bar that also sells really good pizza, not unlike Hopjacks in Mobile.

I was starving and I ate a 10-inch pizza in 20 minutes and still didn't feel stuffed. I highly recommend Harvest Moon if you're in the Albany area. Man, that's some good pizza.

Lunch accomplished, I followed the other set of directions that Clark had given me to the trail.

I parked at Veterans Park, next to the Civic Center, in the middle of town. At first it seemed odd that the trail would be in the middle of town, but it kind-of made sense after a minute or two. The city grew up around the river, the park was on the river, the trail was in the park, thus by some kind of three-way transitive property, it made sense for the trail to be in the city.

I couldn't remember if he said that the trail was to the right or left, so I went left.

There was a wide, paved trail leading to the left but it was almost immediately blocked by construction.

 Bridge Construction

Still, it looked like that might be the right direction so I looped up and around the construction and found another park and the Albany Welcome Center and other stuff on the other side of the bridge.

From there, the paved trail continued north and I followed it.

 The River Walk

It looked a lot like like the right-of-way-turned-greenway trails that we have up by my place. There were drainage line access points all along the trail.

There were also several beautiful views of the Flint River itself.

 The Flint River

I guess all that rock in the river is flint. I felt pressed for time so I didn't go down to the river itself, but later I kicked myself for not doing so. Maybe next time.

The trail passed under several old bridges too.

 Old Bridge

 Train Bridge

There were a couple of little side trails. One was a nature-trail loop, the other went to a fishing pier.

Eventually the paved trail ended at Cox Landing...

 Cox Landing Sign

...which was little more than a parking lot with a porta-potty and a dozen or more feral cats prowling around.

Feral cats are interesting. House cats walk around upright with their tails in the air but feral cats always crouch when and hold their tails low, like my cats always did when they were in trouble. "It's quite an experience to live in fear." It must be a hell of a life for a feral cat.

I stopped to look at the map and some guy and his wife/girlfriend walked up and asked me how to get to the dam. I showed them where it was on the map. Then they moved in and stood uncomfortably close. It was strange, and, in fact, I'd seen them coming off of the fishing pier earlier and on the map, it looked like they must have been able to see the dam from the pier. It couldn't have been 100 yards upstream even. The guy seemed distracted and didn't even look at the map when I showed him where the dam was. It reminded me of when homeless guys would approach me in downtown Houston when I was a teenage skater. They'd ask you some random question but they were really just sizing you up, deciding whether to try and rob you or not. Maybe that's what these folks were up to. Or maybe it was nothing. Either way, it was weird.

The greenway ended at the park and I spun back. I checked out the fishing pier too, and yes, you could totally see the dam, and it totally looked like there was a trail right to it from the pier.

Back at the end that I'd started at, there was this old train depot that I hadn't noticed on the way out. It even had an old train parked next to it....

 Old Train

...and a bunch of old equipment out back...

 Old Equipment

...and these old abandoned tracks leading off into town in one direction and directly toward the depot in the other.

 Old Tracks

On the sides of the buildings people had marked the level of the Great Flood of either '94 or '95 which must have inundated most of downtown. I bet that was crazy.

Ok, so left must have been the wrong way to go for sweet singletrack but hey, I got to see some interesting stuff and put in 5 or 6 quick miles and there was still plenty of daylight left, so I couldn't really complain.

I went right.

It took a little searching but I did, eventually find the singletrack that I'd been looking for.

 Flint River Trail

Ahh, delicious singletrack.

The trail was fairly well marked with little bright orange blazes, and though I'd been warned about how overgrown it can be, there were only a few rough spots. Mainly it just looked like wild oats or something popped up where the sun could get through.

The trail wound, satisfyingly, up, down and around the little bluffs along the river. It reminded me of Hooper Road in Baton Rouge.

I've seen this in a couple of places now. I guess if the land around your town is flat, a good place to find a little terrain is along the river. I guess the flip side to that would be that "along the river" is probably the most environmentally sensitive spot too. But, if you can keep that in mind when you build your trail, it's a win-win.

I rode for a couple of miles and found myself on a paved road with a bunch of junk dumped off to the left. I didn't see any more orange blazes but I explored further, just the same.

There appeared to be enough junk to sustain a small homeless camp, so I was cautious. You never know who you'll run into at those.

I didn't run into anyone, but I did discover these massive ruins.

 Flint River Trail Ruins - Basement

There was an extensive basement complex and several large slabs. There were also three or four huge tanks scattered about the property. One was still standing but two others had tipped over and shattered.

 Flint River Trail Ruins - Busted Oil Tank

They appeared to have been filled with crude oil.

Three or four blockhouses stood nearby as well. One was stripped but otherwise still intact. The others were crumbing wrecks.

 Flint River Trail Ruins - Busted Block House

I long swath of mown grass stretched out to the west and I could streets and cars and houses at the end, so whatever this place was, it wasn't totally forgotten. I'll have to do a little research. I'm really curious now.

The sun was hanging low so I made my way back to the car. On the way, I discovered several miles of red-blazed side-trails that were substantially twistier and more fun than the main trail. How'd I miss those on the way out?

Ahh, Flint River Trail!

Now I can say I've ridden it, and I guess the River Walk trail as well. Now I've ridden that too. And, of course, I also have more precious, precious GPS data to enjoy.

Take that, ravenous compulsion, and please, lay satisfied for a while.

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