Chief Ladiga Trail ride

Not far from Birmingham exists the state’s longest rails-to-trails project.  A former railroad that has been paved over, the Chief Ladiga Trail stretches from Weaver AL to the state line of Georgia, where it becomes the Silver Comet Trail (which runs to suburban Atlanta).

My wife and I have been talking about taking the kids to the ‘Diga lately, but since our previous two times on it were hit and miss I wanted to give it a test ride first.  The first time we rode it, I think it was before we had kids and we parked at the Weaver trailhead and rode maybe 12 or 13 miles before turning around.  The second time we rode it, we had Joss in tow in my pull-behind trailer and we parked in Piedmont.  That trip, the pavement ended after maybe 7 or 8 miles so we ended up turning around rather than haul Joss over the bumpy gravel for too long.  So, having driven way on up to Piedmont and then only getting in short ride, my impressions weren’t that great.  Still though, I kept hearing people talk about how good their experiences were on Ladiga so for the past few years I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back up there.  Plus, I knew that the entire 33 miles in Alabama have been fully paved, making it doable on a road bike.

I got up early on Saturday and loaded my car with some gels and my kit.  After a little more than an hour of driving I was at the parking lot in Weaver….with a bladder that was about to explode.  So, I hustled to the cinder block restroom bldg and made a beeline for the stall.  By that time, my back end was also about to explode and before I knew it I was hovering over the toilet (I’m a germophode when it comes to toilets at public parks) with stuff coming out of my hose pipe and my tail pipe.  But at least I was able to get fully emptied before hitting the trail.

After about a mile of riding I realized I had forgotten to grab the gels that I brought.  I thought of turning around, but with a 66-mile ride on the agenda I decided not to spend any time backtracking.  I really should have turned around though, as it would come back to haunt me.  I also had forgotten to grab the small change from my car console, and instead only had a $20 bill that I got from an ATM that morning.

The Chief Ladiga Trail consists primarly of doubletrack-width asphalt pavement (maybe 6 to 8 feet wide) that runs between tree canopies for miles after miles.  Very pretty, but also rather monotonous at times.  It runs through the outskirts of Jacksonville AL, including part of the Jacksonville State University.  It also goes through the very small town of Piedmont, where I had hoped to find something to eat and some Gatorade on my return leg.

I kept going through Jacksonville, and stopped to refill one of my water bottles at a trailside visitor’s center in the vicinity of downtown Piedmont.  A large group of cyclists was hanging out here, but it turns out that they were riding the opposite direction.  So, I set out again on my own towards Georgia.  After a few miles I reached the farthest point that Leslie and I had ridden, so I didn’t know what to expect after that.  The last 15 or so miles takes you over several small rivers/creeks and through an open valley near the base of Dugger Mountain, which I believe is Alabama’s second tallest mountain.  Eventually it becomes the Silver Comet Trail as it crosses the Georgia state line, complete with an archway over the trail.

I stopped at the state line, satisfied with having ridden 33 miles so far and feeling good.  However, I was already extremely hungry and went ahead and ate the only Honey Stinger Waffle that I had brought.  This, along with a small pack of Gu Chomps, was the only food I had.  My only other source of calories came from two weakly mixed water bottles with Osmo mix.  So, I was going way into the hole in terms of calories.  I sat there for a few minutes talking to a 30 year old female cyclist and her father from Georgia.  They had apparently parked in a town called Rockmart GA and had ridden to the state line so that they too could do an out-and-back.

After chatting for a few minutes I bid them farewell and headed back towards Piedmont in search of some real food.  Those miles just never seemed to end coming back….the problem with an out-and-back route, especially without someone to talk to, is that unless the scenery is out-of-this-world amazing or the trail is challenging enough to keep your mind occupied, it just gets overwhelmingly boring.  But eventually I made it to semi-civilization (Piedmont) and began riding around downtown in search of something to eat….only to find NOTHING.  I’m sure somewhere exists, but I didn’t see it.  I found some trailside vending machines, but they certainly didn’t take $20 bills nor any credit cards.  I refilled my water bottles at the nearby restroom facility and made my way towards Jacksonville, by now a little concerned about bonking.

Since the trail just skirts the edges of Jacksonville, you don’t come across any stores or restaurants.  But I did remember that there as a welcome center that I saw on the south side of Jacksonville (the side towards Weaver) that had a few cyclists hanging out when I went through the first time.  I figured that there was likely some sort of snack shop inside.  WRONG.  By the time I got there it was all locked up aside from the restrooms, and it was probably not likely that they had anything to eat anyway.  So, I refilled my bottles again (I was drinking a ton of water since it was becoming rather hot and humid).  I sat down at a nearby bench for around five minutes just give my body a break before heading back to my car, which was only around 8 miles away.

Those last 8 miles seemed to go on forever.  Luckily the trail has mile markers, so it made counting down the remaining distance easy to do.  Eventually I got to my car on the verge of bonking and then quickly grabbed a gel for an energy boost.  Of course after sitting in the hot car all day, the gel was nice and hot with the viscocity being close to that of water.  But it did the trick.

After loading up, I treated myself to what hit the spot more than anything I could have imagined – a Cherry Limeade from Sonic.  It was the bomb dot com.   I also bought a cheeseburger and fries, but could only eat around a third of it.

By the time I returned home, I had consumed 10 pounds of liquid that day, along with the Gu Chomps, Honey Stinger Waffle, and some of my Sonic burger and fries.  Yet, I weighed myself and was 4 pounds lighter than I was when I weighed myself upon waking up.  Just goes to show that I am a serious sweater.  One of these days I will do a sweat rate test and truly see how much I lose per hour….it’s got to be significant considering I probably had a total of 11 pounds of liquid and food but still lost 4 pounds.  That represents a 15-pound weight swing after only 4 hours of riding.

All told, I’m really glad I rode the Chief Ladiga Trail that day.  If anything, it was good mindless training….an easy way to bank some miles.  But, if I went back I would definitely prefer to have some company and would also really like to ride into Georgia for a bit.  Maybe even ride all the way to the Atlanta area, get a hotel room, and then ride back the next day.  I opted to do this ride on my cyclocross bike, complete with CX tires.  I had my road wheels/tires in my car, but decided not to use them since I didn’t know how good the pavement was going to be.  As it turns out, I could have easily ridden with road tires, but my CX tires were certainly more comfortable and also provided a very low risk of flatting (which I was wanting to avoid since I was out there by myself with just one spare tube and one CO2 cartridge).

Some random pics are below.

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weaver restrooms – site of some bad stuff

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it was like this for many miles

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jacksonville rest stop

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north of piedmont

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at the georgia state line

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dugger mountain

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return trip to jacksonville

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the best cherry limeade ever

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