Monday, July 6, 2020

Silver Comet/Chief Ladiga

This past Friday night, I felt almost consumed with the idea of riding the Comet to Anniston and back. It just kept coming back to mind.

I'd had the idea before. I'd actually kind-of planned on doing it in late 2012, but I lived in Cumming at the time, and it difficult to coordinate getting to and from the start. I'd had the idea again early last week, and it had occurred to me that, living in Mableton, I could just ride from my house.

I needed to get in some overnights this summer. A ride like this would be a good way to ease into all that. The pieces were falling in place.


I slept in on Saturday, grabbed some lunch with the family, took care of various details that needed to be taken care of, and hit the trail.

No screwing around here though. No starting at Fontaine. It was Mile 0 or nothing!

Mile 0 - Heading Out

I tend to have the urge to hammer out of the gate, and there's actually something to be said for that: "You have to make hay when the sun is shining." I.e. it does pay, some amount, to put in some effort, and make good time, when you have the effort available, early each day. I tend to want to put in more than is wise though, so I did have to rein it in a bit, but after 20 minutes or so, it felt right, and I was feeling pretty good.

Did I mention that I was on my road bike?

On the Road Bike

I was on the road bike. The back tire on my mountain bike is getting pretty worn, and there are no 26" Ikons available anywhere in the world, it seems. I have an entire new bike on order actually, but none of the carbon parts have come in yet, despite being already overdue by several days. The Comet and Ladiga are paved. Yes, the road bike seemed like the right tool for the job.

There were 2 problems with the road bike though. Though I'm running tubeless, I had no spare tube, and I also had no tool to remove the valve stem should I need to throw a tube in there. Luckily, Comet Trail Cycles is on the trail, at Floyd Road.

As fate would have it, the guy behind the counter was Jeff Purdue. Or, "Jeff Paaaaarrrrrrduuuueeee" as Bruce Dickman used to refer to him during the various cross country races that we used to ride together. I say "together" but he always rode expert, and I always rode sport. My brother rode against him, but I never did. I'd just see him in the pits, and I'd be like: "That guy's strong." Jeff's the guy in the TNGA video wearing the Blue, Green, White, and Black Smyrna Bicycles kit. I'm not sure how many times he's finished. At least twice that I know of for sure, but possibly more than that. The last time I saw him was at the gas station in Robertstown in 2018. He came in, laid down on the ground, and didn't move for like an hour and a half. We joked about that. The rest of the story is that he rode in to Helen, puked until 1AM, recovered, got back on the bike, and finished about 7 hours faster than his previous attempt!

That guy is strong.

Equipped, I got back on the trail, and somewhere in Paulding County it started raining.

Ohhh, The Rain

Cold rain too, which was actually welcome. I'm not sure how hot it was, but it was really darn hot - hot enough that when I got through the rain, the trail and all of my clothes were completely dry, socks included, within 15 minutes.

Still headed west, I crossed the Pumpkinvine Trestle...

Pumpkinvine Trestle

...and rode through the Brushy Mountain Tunnel.

Brushy Mountain Tunnel

Somewhere in there, I ran into two ladies on horseback! Awesome! In 20 years, I've only seen horses on the trail twice before. We met on opposite ends of a little tunnel under the road. I stopped and jumped off, and they were like "Woohoo!" and came through. One horse was barefoot and the other had rubber shoes on the front. We talked a bit, and apparently the concrete surface is tough on a horse's joints if they don't ride it regularly, so they don't ride the pavement too often. I'd honestly never thought about that before, but it makes sense. I'm that way too, hiking and jogging.


Westbound Towards Rockmart

In rockmart, I stopped at the restaurant off of the square.

Restaurant in Rockmart

It seems like I never get to eat at the restaurant more than two or three times before it changes owners. The food has always been really good, so there must be some other reason that they keep changing hands. This time it's a BBQ joint. I got a pulled pork sandwich to go - no sauce, and no pickles, and chugged a Coke while I was there.

I think Rockmart's about 30 miles in. I was about 1/3rd done with the day, and still feeling really good. The only trouble I was having was just unfamiliarity with the bike. I'd been riding the mountain bike, almost exclusively, even on the road, for nearly a year. I'd get out the road bike if it's wet or just for fun here and there, but I hadn't spent good time on it in a while. It's fit to me, but I'm not used to the bars, or the tape like I ought to be. My hands and shoulders were a little uncomfortable.

It's remote between Cobb County and Rockmart, but there are houses and farms and whatnot west of there.


And, then there are the dreaded Polk County Pyrenees. The Silver Comet is super flat except for where it's super steep. The Pyrenees are a series of hills just east of Cedartown, where the trail briefly diverges from the old railbed that it generally follows. With a 23 in the back, I struggled. It wasn't terrible, but I'd forgotten just how steep those hills really are.

In the general Cedartown area, the trail diverges and rejoins the old railbed several times. At one point, runs next to a housing project, crosses some tracks, and runs along a sidewalk through a strip of shops. There, I saw the only man I'd seen yet. He was dressed in red shoes and socks, and both his shorts and shirt were bright blue, and covered with stars. It was then that I remembered that it was the 4th of July. It literally had not occurred to me until that point. With the virus going around, we'd pretty much given up on going anywhere to see fireworks, or having friends over for a cookout. It was just another weekend, until I saw that guy, celebrating in his own unique way. Happy 4th brother!

The Silver Comet Trail basically follows the route of the old Seabord Coast Line. In antiquity, this ran from somewhere near Anniston, all the way into Atlanta, with a spur leading from Rockmart up to Cartersville to join up with who-knows-what. Various chunks of it have been abandoned and converted to trail since then, but apparently not all of it. Somewhere around Rockmart, the line is still active and the trail diverges, rejoins, and parallels it several times before joining another abandoned section. Anyway, the point is (and this is what struck me as I rode it the other day) that a long time ago, the main rail ran from near Anniston to Atlanta, and there was this little spur up to Cartersville, but these days, it's the other way around. The entire line is a lot smaller, and the main line runs from Cartersville down to Rockmart. The little bit between Rockmart and Cedartown has become the spur. Maybe an odd thing to think about, but my mind wanders like that, and it occurred to me when I kept crossing active tracks over and over.

At some point, I rolled into the Cedartown depot.

Cedartown Depot

I'd been there twice before, I think. Once with the girls, and once with a friend of Billy's. The place was like a ghost town. There were a few cars, but nobody was walking around, in any direction. In Rockmart, there had been people out, milling around the park, and playing in the river. Cedartown was dead.

The neighborhood west of Cedartown is slightly confusing. There's a short section that's not marked, and it's easy to lose the trail. Well... it's also easy to re-find it, but there's an unmarked turn and it's likely you'd go straight, rather than turn, and have to look around for where to go. I did all that.

Alright, back on the open road.

Westbound After Cedartown

...or, open trail, I guess.

Between there and the border, I rode through several bands of rain. It would rain for 10 minutes, let up for 10 minutes, then rain again. It wasn't miserable because it was really warm out, but I couldn't wear my glasses, and that kind of sucked.

Hooray! The border!

Alabama Border

There's a nice little pavillion there that I spent a good 20 minutes under, eating, and drying off my phone well enough to be able to get that photo.

Not 10 minutes later it was dry again, and 20 minutes after that my clothes were dry.

I'd been to the border a few times, but I'd never been past it. I was eager to see whether there was anything different on the Ladiga side. Turns out yes. For starters, the trail is a bit more narrow. Maybe 3 feet more narrow. It's also entirely blacktop, whereas in Georgia, some sections are concrete. There were lots of buckled cracks too, especially in the first few miles. They were painted for visibility, but they still rattled me pretty good when I wasn't paying attention. There are some really deep, extended cuts there, just past the border, where the line passes through whatever those mountains are, deeper than anything I noticed in Georgia, at least.

Pretty quickly though, you drop out of the mountains, and onto the piedmont. And, from there on, it's mostly wide open spaces.

Alabama Mountains Westbound on Ladiga More Alabama Mountains

Very different character than on the Georgia side.

It's worth mentioning that after crossing the border, I knew that I had about 30 miles left to go, or about 1/3rd of the total trip. My hands, elbows, and shoulders were getting pretty tired. To add insult... I know it's great for safety, but there were signposts, every half mile, counting me down, for 30 miles.

Ladiga Mile Marker

"Yeah, I've been riding a while, lets see how far I've gone.... 1/2 mile."

Every half mile.

I'd have been happier without them.

The town of Piedmont is just over this little bridge here.

Heading into Piedmont

And it looked like it might have some old timey charm, so I spun a lap of the downtown area.


Piedmont Main Street

Ehh, maybe...

Well, this certainly qualified!

Piedmont Alley Art 1 Piedmont Alley Art 2 Piedmont Alley Art 3 Piedmont Alley Art 4

Ha! Weird little alley in the middle of downtown. The cow with the bike??? I was glad I stopped.

The next town was Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Depot

Beyond that was Weaver. It was somewhere between the two of them that I just wanted to get done with the ride, and kicked up the pace a bit.

Beyond Weaver was Anniston.

Welcome to Anniston

And, yes! The end of the trail.

End of Ladiga


Just a little ways down the road was the Royal Inn, at which I'd reserved a room prior to leaving.

Royal Inn

I actually arrived about an hour ahead of schedule, but when I got checked in, and started kicking back...

Kicking Back

...and looking at the microwave, it appeared that I was somehow two hours ahead of schedule! How the heck? It took me several minutes to figure out that I'd crossed a time zone, and it was an hour earlier because I was in Central. "God's time" as my father-in-law calls it. Heh.

I wasted no time getting showered and changing clothes. I hadn't brought my full bikepacking kit with me - nothing for shelter or sleeping, but I had brought my pack, with all the other odds and ends in it, including a change of clothes. Well, shirt and shorts at least. They were slightly damp from the various deluges I'd ploughed through, but I put them on, and they were dry within a few minutes. So comfortable.

[posts to Strava] Hmm. 101 miles. Nice.

The cheap motel bed was 5-star luxury for my tired legs. I murdered that pulled pork sandwich that I'd gotten in Rockmart, watched like 15 minutes of Family Guy, and then began to feel like I needed to find more dinner. This involved many google searches, phone calls to closed restaurants, failed attempts to get Mellow Mushroom from Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Doordash, a ride down to a closed Subway, and finally ordering from Papa Johns, which was literally across the parking lot from the motel. Sadly, they had no poppers, which is what I was really craving, but I made do with cinnamon pull-aparts, and packed up an order of cheese bread sticks to take with me on the ride home the next day.

I watched the last 20 minutes of Rogue One, then part of Ragnarok, then crashed.

An unknown number of hours later I woke up, refreshed. This sounds great, but it's actually not. I forgot to mention that I was pounding water from the minute I got into the room until I went to bed. It had been really hot the day before, and I felt like I was behind on hydration. I put a full bottle on the bed beside me, expecting to have to get up several times during the night to pee, at which point I'd pound more water. This never happened. In fact, I didn't even need to pee when I woke up. Hmmm...

No matter. I felt pretty good. I ate the rest of my cinnamon pull-aparts, drank as much water as I could reasonably fit in my body, kitted up, checked out, and hit the trail.

Make hay while the sun is shining Dave!

My hands and especially my left shoulder were unhappy after about 10 miles but they never got worse. I tried to ignore the mile markers.

There was a black rat snake on the trail that I stopped to get a photo of, but it disappeared into the weeds by the time I got my phone out. It happened to be near this weird set of piers on the side of the trail though, so I got a photo of them.

Weird Piers Along Ladiga

I guess there was some heavy structure up on top of those at some point. Was it related to the creek, or to the train? Or both? I'm curious what this was.

The mountains near the border were getting close.

Alabama Mountains - Eastbound

Ha ha! Grey Rat Snake!

Grey Rat Snake

This one stayed still for me.

Here's that deep cut near the border, that I mentioned earlier. It's difficult to make out in the photo though. Maybe in winter it would be more clear how deep it is.

Eastbound on Ladiga Near GA Border

Yeah. GA border!

GA Border - Eastbound

Only 60 more miles to go.

For several miles after the border, I kept passing through weird pockets of cool air. It was getting pretty warm, as the sun was climbing, but then I'd pass through a cool spot, then it would be hot-cool-hot-cool-hot-cool over and over again, really quickly, for the next few hundred yards. Then it would go back to being warm again. Weird, but refreshing.

Just west of Cedartown, I pulled into one of the metal sheds that line the trail there. I'd seen these before, but they had never looked all that inviting. Well, apparently, I had never been hot, tired, and hungry when I was near one until the other day.

Taking a Break

Definitely inviting.

I munched that cheese bread, which had seemed like the perfect food the day before - so salty and bready. Mmm.

Papa Johns Cheese Bread

I had neglected, however, that the spectific thing I don't like about Papa Johns is their cheese. I like the crust, and the sauce, and the toppings, but I am, regrettably, snobby about cheese, and whatever they're using falls just under my "mmm" threshold. It's edible, but I found myself trying to chew it to the left and right sides of my mouth to avoid tasting it. Damn you, egotistical tastebuds. I need these calories. I need this salt. Stop complaining! It took some effort, but I managed to eat an adequate amount, and to get a little rest while I was at it.

Just as I was getting back up to speed, a guy passed me, wearing a kit very reminiscent of the guy I'd seen walking around Cedartown the previous day. This guy's shorts were red though, and it was clearly a cycling jersey that he was wearing.

I had a rabbit, and I ended up chasing him for miles.

Chasing a Rabbit

He put it to me in the Pyrenees, but I pulled him in, and put him behind me a few miles west of Rockmart. It's funny how distracting a chase can be. The time just flies by.

I stopped in Rockmart for water, and then again for a few minutes on a bench near the old dam. There were kids playing in the water with pool toys. I imagined just sinking into that water... Into the mud at the bottom. It was apparently quite hot. I hadn't thought too much about it - whatever temperature it was, it just was, and I was moving, so that made it better. Plenty of water. I felt like I had it covered. The next day people were mentioning how hot it had been on Strava. I guess it does take its toll. It had certainly made me dream of those cool, cool rivers.

Somewhere just east of Rockmart, I think, is Ma White's Bottom Land.

Ma White's Bottom Land

There's a field to the south, and a bit of a hill to the north. A plantation sat on that hill, and if you look, you can see No Trespassing signs up there. The railroad grade wasn't there way back, and the hill must have just sloped down to the fields. Ruins and historical locations like that are interesting to me. If there hadn't been signs saying no, I might have been compelled to poke around on the hill for an old chimney or something.

But the real reason I stopped was that I'd seen the sign the day before and cracked up reading it. There are all these memes these days joking about how thicc Pixar and Disney like to depict their female characters, how Judge Judy got that wagon, and so forth. And, of course, the recent study demonstrating that women with big butts produce more intelligent offspring. So, yeah, "bottom land" is a popular topic, and it sprung to mind when I saw the sign. Then, there's this proper old Ma White in that photo. She looks pleased with her bottom lands. It cracked me up. My phone had gotten too wet to be able to get a quick photo the day before, so I was happy to be able to get the photo on the way back.

As I approached the Brushy Mountain Tunnel, I felt the delicious cool air breezing out of it. There are big slabs of rock forming a ring around a small spring on the west side too.

Taking a Break at the Tunnel

One of those rocks was exactly Dave-sized, so I laid my pack out like a pillow, and laid myself down on that slab. Man! If you've never let a big slab of rock draw the heat out of your body on a hot day, while a tunnel blows cool air at you... you're missing out. It was easily as refreshing as that shower and that bed had been the day before.

Some guy passed by while I was lying there and started shouting a cadence as he rode through the tunnel: "Left... Left... Left, Right, Left... [something incoherent] Left, Right, Left..." Then he'd chuckle and keep doing it. He seemed to enjoy the reverb. This made me smile and chuckle too.

I couldn't have laid there for more than 5 minutes, but I felt really refreshed when I got up and got going again.

It's like 20 miles, maybe, home from there. When I hit the Cobb County line, everything was super familiar, and it all just whizzed by. From Floyd Road to Mavell, it's mostly downhill, and you can really fly if you want to... and I wanted to... so I really flew. I even managed to get some PR's in there somewhere, 90 miles in, on day 2!

Ha ha! Done?


Well, not exactly, I still had to ride home, which is damn-near all uphill on Cooper Lake, and then Dodgen. I live at almost the peak of a little hill on Dodgen too, so that stretch is all uphill until I stop at the top of my driveway.

Ok, NOW I'm done.

Done For Real

[posts to Strava] 100.some-odd miles.

Excellent. I'd have been bummed if it somehow ended up being just short. Neat that it's exactly 100 miles from my house to a random hotel in Anniston. I didn't actually plan that. I figured it'd be 90ish in both directions. Lucky me though, back-to-back centuries... on the flattest possible route. But, solo, at least!

So, I'm glad I did that. It's been on my list for a long time. But, I can't say I had the greatest time. I'm not sure what % was the heat vs. rain vs. other issues, but I just felt generally uncomfortable on the bike, most of the time. It wasn't terrible, I just couldn't really relax and crank out miles, which it seems I can do on the mountain bike, even in the mountains. It might be just that - when you're climbing, your upper body is fairly relaxed, and when you're descending, you can relax your lower body, and on the mountain bike, you can generally switch positions a lot to negotiate terrain. On the road bike, especially when it's flat, you're always on the gas, usually leaning on your hands, and you stay in mostly the same position for a long, long time. I know for sure, I used to have a lot more tolerance to leaning on the bars than I do today. When the girls were younger, we'd go on long greenway rides, and I'd lean on the bars, pedaling slowly, the whole time. It really built up my endurance, but I haven't done anything like that in years.

Well, greatest time or not, I got to ride new trail, see new sights, shack up in a strange town, and have all kinds of weird experiences in between. I love it all!


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