Sunday, July 11, 2010

Georgia to Alabama Century+ Ride

Georgia to Alabama Century+ Ride

Silver Comet Trail

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Well, two days before the ride it was 100 degrees. I had been telling the guys at work that there was a good chance we would not make it to Alabama (mile 61.5) on the Silver Comet trail and we would turn at mile 50 and go back.

I never told Sean Oh.

We arrived at mile zero on Saturday morning just before 6:30 am. It was overcast but the just light enough to see. Sean Oh was at his car getting his bike together and we chatted for a minute. Then Matt Kahrs came down the trail! Matt was going to join us for the first ten miles, but later that morning he had a commitment so he would turn back.

As we were busy getting set up, I noticed a, well, serious cyclist go down the trail and then reappear and start to put his bike back on his bike rack. He explained there were trees down on the trail and he wasn't dealing with it.

Sure enough there were many trees down on the trail. Some we could pull off the trail, but some were too big and we had to put our bikes on our shoulder and climb over large limbs. I should have brought a saw! The damage was limited to the first seven or eight miles and clear the rest of the way.

Matt was great company for the start and he said that the smaller limbs were a blessing in disguise. Negotiating the limbs kept us from starting off too fast and having nothing left at the end of the ride. He was right on the money, we kept a pretty steady pace and that really paid off.

Unfortunately for Matt, just as the trail really cleared up, he had to turn and go back. Having him along was very cool even if just for ten miles.

Sean and I know each other from Ultra races in the area. We both have run some good distances and have experience with fuel and water over many hours. We compared notes before we started off. Sean brought gels, gummi bears and Sally (Brooking) told him to bring beef jerky. Sean and I agreed we should always listen to Sally. I brought a few gels, salty tortilla chips, granola bars and animal crackers. I try to bring real food, because after so many hours I can't make myself eat more gels. We both had two water bottles on our bikes. The beef jerky was a good choice and Sean shared. I should have left the animal crackers, they just dried out my mouth. We both brought electrolytes as well. The plan was to eat early and drink water often. Sean had a handy chart that showed where we could fill our water bottles and we noted where there would be long dry areas.

I should also mention that neither of us had gone more than 50 (or so) miles on a bike before. We were learning all this together.

Once Matt turned, the other runners and cyclists thinned out. Then at mile 15 or so, who should we see but Kena Yutz and Greg Myers running the other way. It was so cool to see them! We said hi and talked about Kena's upcoming race and chitchatted for a couple of minutes. They wished us well on our adventure and we were back on the bikes.

The Silver Comet trail is an abandon railroad right-of-way that has been converted into a paved trail for running and biking. No motorized vehicles (except for the Pauling County Sheriff) are allowed on the Silver Comet. This was a nice break for me from road biking where I am trying to avoid cars. There are nice parks at the access points to the trails some have better facilities than others, but it is all well marked and the website has tons of information. No surprises on our long ride.

We passed through more scenic wooded areas and got to the Brushy Mountain tunnel. I gather from the length that it was used by the railroad to go under the mountain in stead of over the mountain. Here Sean and I stopped and took pictures and checked it out. We continued through beautiful forest onto Rockmart.

Once the trail was in Rockmart the landscape changed from wooded to small town. There is a very nice park in the center of Rockmart with a bandstand right by a river. On the return trip there were kids playing in the river and a band setting up. I came away impressed with Rockmart.

As you leave Rockmart, the trail appears to leave the old rail route. The trail has some (brief) climbs and follows highway 278 for a while. Neither Sean or I had noticed to climbs on the maps. Up to this point, the grade was pretty flat and any changes very gradual. There was a board walk section right after Rockmart the made our teeth chatter! I am glad the rest of the trail is asphalt and concrete. We passed by some businesses and a more industrial area and then back to the woods. The trail was more open and we started to see more of the sun. Up to this point, we hadn't even noticed to temperature because it was so pleasant.

At mile 45 we got into the only real climbs on the trail. Combined with some twists and turns it made for a couple of exciting moments. After the longest climb we had a nice, stretched out downhill. Right at the end of the downhill there is a sudden S-curve. Sean saw it coming, but I almost didn't slow down in time. We didn't wreck, but it was touch and go for a second. Once past this section there were not many more climbs.

At mile fifty I felt compelled to stop and take a picture of the marker. The was never any debate that we wouldn't continue. Once past the downed trees, we had sailed along at a comfortable pace. We had been very conservative, like Matt had suggested, and we both felt great. If trail running has taught me anything, it is to listen to my body and my body was saying: “Let's go to Alabama!” And so we headed for Cedartown.

I don't think I have been to Cedartown before. I am sure that Cedartown has a good side, but the trail does not go through that part.

Here the trail goes on roads for short pieces and on sidewalks as well. One sidewalk section puts you right in front of a small store. Going in, it was pretty sparse, but they knew we were coming! M&M's and candy bars were in the fridge along with Cokes and Powerades. Score! I opted for the M&M's and a diet Coke. Sean got a Gatorade and something to eat as well. Sean and I stood outside and relished the break from the saddle and downed the sugary snacks. What a great find!!

Farther along in Cedartown, that is a historic depot and what looked like a museum. The trail then leaves Cedartown and is surrounded by farms. We passed by a farmer mowing hay and heard roosters crowing nearby. After the snack break it was easy to enjoy the open country.

From Cedartown, it is nine miles to the state line. The trail felt more like the first section, but I am not sure we were on the old rail line. Next thing there was an arch over the trail!

At the Alabama line the Silver Comet meets the Chief Ladiga trail. I am impressed that the trail goes all the way to Anniston. At one stop another cyclist had told us that you can ride the length of both trails and take a train back to Atlanta. That might be pretty cool to try someday!

We got off the bikes and snapped pictures of the archway...we had made it! Well, halfway anyway. The sun was warming things up and the bikes do make a nice cooling breeze as you ride. After a brief break, we made the turn and headed for home.

Sean was using this ride as an alternative to running in the heat. I am training for a triathlon in August. We both are planning out our fall races and it made for great conversation as we cranked out the miles. We compared notes on races we had both run. I asked Sean many questions about the races he had run and I had only seen the race web site.

On the return trip we had the advantage of knowing what was coming up and obviously, there were no surprises. At Cedartown, we stopped for a sugar rush again and at Rockmart we stopped for some food at a road-side stand.

Success! Both of us newbies had made the entire 123 miles! We had started in Atlanta, touched Alabama and made it back in one piece. Sean was great company and that really made the trip awesome. Maybe I talked Sean into trying a triathlon and maybe Sean talked me into trying Stump Jump 50k. Either way, we both can proudly say we completed out first century ride and had a great time.

Lastly, I have to say kudos to Polk, Paulding and Cobb counties and the States of Georgia and Alabama. The trail a gem to be treasured. To have the trail continue on in Alabama must have been a lot of effort. Good job to the people who made it happen.