Friday, September 28, 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Heading Home from the Silver Comet/Chief  Ladiga Ride
Day 4
September 23, 2012
Since we are not riding our bicycles today, we have plenty of time for a back roads adventure on the way home.  I search the I-Pad for ideas, and come up with one of our best lunch breaks ever--Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. 

The film was shot in the little town of Juliette, Georgia, and the folks there are leveraging the town’s movie credits for all they are worth.  The café immortalized in the film is open for business seven days a week, featuring the best fried green tomatoes and pecan smoked pork barbecue you are ever going to find anywhere.   

We fill up Sunday dinner style, then stroll the half block that constitutes downtown, ducking into a few of the tiny shops to browse and chat with the very friendly people who live and work here.  We buy honey from a bee keeper, and preserves from the Whistle Stop Café Gift Shop, then we peruse an antique store with pretty slim pickins'. 
The police station here is pretty small, but it is still bigger than the inactive police station in Ridgeway, NC, which claims to be the world’s smallest.

Juliette Police Station
Ridgeway Police Station
The neighbor across the street from the Police Station has erected this police station, which wins the smallest contest, but probably isn't a winner with law enforcement personnel. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Curse of Chief Ladiga

Silver Comet/Chief  Ladiga Ride
Day 3
September 22, 2012
29.3 miles
The club splits up today, and we choose to hop on the Silver Comet less than a mile before it ends at the Alabama border and morphs into the Chief Ladiga Trail.  We are riding with our friends Darrel and Holly, planning to do thirty miles.  Other club members start further back, planning to do fifty miles.  We will all meet at the trailside  Welcome Center in Piedmont, then eat lunch together at the only restaurant in town, the Solid Rock Cafe. 

The Chief Ladiga Trail, like the Silver Comet Trail, is built on an abandoned rail bed.  This sign stands at the border between Georgia and Alabama marking the end of one trail and the beginning of another.  But, we don’t need to sign to tell us that things have changed.  Suddenly the wide smooth concrete pavement of the Silver Comet turns to a narrower asphalt trail, there are no more picnic tables or benches, and vast expanses of the asphalt bear gaping cracks from tree roots and age.   

Yet, we kind of like the LadigaTrail better.  

We pass through a rural landscape--there are cotton fields, soybean fields, and fields of corn stubble.  There are no sub-developments--just modest farm houses and weathered outbuildings, a few chickens pecking in a yard, and valiant miniature dogs yapping at the end of a driveway guarding their home from threatening bikers.  And, yes, there are also forested sections, where the canopy of trees shades us, and springs flow from rocky cliffs that hug the trail and hold chill air to cool us long after the sun is high in the sky.
All goes according to plan until shortly before we reach the welcome center, when Dick experiences an excruciating pain in his knee.  He is pedaling with just one leg. It is clear he will not be riding back to Rockmart.  Fortunately, one of our club members didn’t ride today, and drove her van to meet us for lunch, so after lunch she is able to haul Dick and his bike back to our car, where he sits and entertains himself with his smart phone until Holly, Darrel and I return on our bikes.  

Is Dick's knee injury the result of the curse of Chief Ladiga?  Here in the South we believe in ghosts, and clearly it would be totally understandable if the trail’s namesake came back throughout the ages to seek revenge for the suffering of his people at the hands of our ancestors.  Andrew Jackson forced Creek Tribe Chief Ladiga to enter into a treaty to give up tribal land for terms that the United States failed to honor.  Eventually those that survived were banished to Oklahoma parcels far less verdant than the rolling green hills the settlers coveted here.    

Amazingly, Dick’s pain dissipates within hours of leaving the trail behind.  

Some ice on the knee, a convivial cocktail hour, Mexican food with friends, and early to bed. Except for the knee thing, this is yet another perfect day.

But, there will be no more riding for us tomorrow

Saturday, September 22, 2012

We Catch the Comet

Silver Comet Ride
Day 2
September 21, 2012
50.7 miles
We have ridden many bike trails built on abandoned rail beds, but the Silver Comet Trail is the most luxurious--an extra-wide very smooth concrete bicycle super highway running through heavily wooded terrain, punctuated by many well-lit tunnels, trestles with great views, and lots of trail-side benches, picnic tables and inviting places to stop and rest.  Constructed at an average cost of $325,000 per mile, its elegance is very much in keeping with the tradition of its namesake, the Silver Comet passenger train that ran between New York and Birmingham from 1947 to 1969.  Each of the shiny silver coaches on the train had a porter, a customer service representative and a nurse to assure the total care and comfort of its passengers.


We hopped on the trail at the Rockmart Trailhead, just a two mile ride from our hotel, and we quickly left civilization behind.  The trail had gentle grades of six percent or less, while the terrain around us rapidly changed from deep ravines to high stone-faced cliffs.  There were a few farms, a few housing developments, a few cross-roads, and one very stinky water treatment plant along the way, but mostly, our ride was just a very pleasant cruise through deciduous woodlands with just a hint of fall color beginning to show on a perfect Indian summer day.  Most of the time, our views were pretty much the same views those pampered Silver Comet passengers enjoyed as they gazed out the windows of speeding train. We just got to appreciate the views at a far more leisurely pace.

We departed the trail at Hiram, where we stopped for lunch at a delightful Italian restaurant adjacent to an extremely active commercial rail line.  A very long very slow train caught our attention as it spent at least ten minutes passing by, then came to a dead stop, blocking what looked to be a main thoroughfare of the town. It never moved again during our meal.  Apparently, the locals know how to get around this minor impediment to their travel plans.  Fortunately, we didn’t need to get past the train to get back on the trail and return to Rockmart.


Off the trail and on the road back to our hotel, we made a detour to Dairy Queen for well-earned cold sweet treats.  

Back at the hotel, it was time for showers and naps, then our happy hour in the hotel lobby, where there was twice as much food and wine on the table as last night, making it hard to get ourselves motivated to move on to dinner.   

We had a deadline, though --Frankie’s, everyone’s favorite dinner spot in town, closes at 8:30.  When we got there, Frankie herself welcomed us warmly, and invited us to wander around and look at all the things people have written on the walls.  She doesn’t serve wine (a little problem with her distributor), but Frankie gladly let us bring our own.  Club members who have been here before searched out the spots where they and other illustrious members have immortalized themselves and the Coastal Bicycle Touring Club by writing on the walls, then we settled down to a good mangia meal.  

Is it possible that we just experienced a perfect day of cycling and camaraderie?  We wouldn’t change a thing.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Catching the Comet

Silver Comet Ride
Day 1
September 20, 2021
We don’t actually ride our bikes today--we just pack up the car, put the bikes on the rack and head north to meet our fellow riders in Rockport, Georgia, where we will catch the Silver Comet Trail tomorrow.

But, we rarely manage to drive straight to our destination without finding an interesting diversion along the way, and this trip is no exception.
While trying to figure out where we might stop for lunch around Macon, I notice the Ocmulgee National Monument is right off the highway.  With a little I-Pad research we learn that it is the site of ceremonial earth mounds dating back to 1,000 years ago.  We stop at Subway for the makings of a picnic, and head for the mounds.

After lunch, serenaded by mocking birds holding a sing-off in the picnic area, we visit the Visitor Center and Museum, where we learn a lot about the remarkable history of this site, where archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence of “17,000 years of continuous human habitation.”  The Native Americans who lived here and venerated the mounds as sacred ground were removed to Oklahoma in 1826. Later, the Georgia Central Railroad ran its tracks right through one of the mounds, and pot hunters looted others.   Northern and Southern troops met here during the Civil War, and added their earthworks and trenches to the ancient contours of the land. 
Still, many treasures and extraordinary discoveries awaited the WPA and CCC crews that worked here during the 1930s.  Under the supervision of a team of distinguished archeologists, 600 to 800 workers at a time participated in the biggest dig in the country. 

After learning getting all this background at the Museum, it is time to see the mounds.

The Earth Lodge is “America’s Oldest Ceremonial Lodge,” constructed around 1015 CE.  From the outside, it looks like a very large conical mound, but as we walk around it, we see an entrance tunnel.  We have to crouch low and awkwardly waddle to get through the dark 26 foot long entry passageway.  At the end of the tunnel, we find this expansive ceremonial space, which we are told is within six inches of being a perfect circle. Its clay walls and wooden ceiling beams have been reconstructed, but we are looking at the original 1,000 year old floor, with a molded image of a bird in front of the leader’s throne, and chairs for others of descending rank positioned around the periphery of the circle so that they decrease in height and width as they get further from the leader’s power position.  (On the way out, Dick forgets how low the tunnel is, we can’t see in the dark, and he hits his head.)
We climb to the top of the 55-foot high Great Temple Mound, where we have panoramic views of the surrounding country side and a particularly dramatic view of a railroad track running next to the raw clay side of a mound cut in half so the track could run straight through.

We cut our visit short in the interest of getting through Atlanta before rush hour.  Luck is with us, and we fly right through the traffic on the city’s periphery. 
We are in Rockport just in time to join our biking buddies for Happy Hour (we take over the Econolodge breakfast area with our drinks and snacks), then dinner at a Mexican restaurant just a five minute walk from our hotel. 

Tomorrow will be our first ride with the club in almost a year.  It will be 50 miles, nearly twice the longest distance we have ridden since getting back in the saddle again.  Will we make it?  As we go to sleep tonight, we are wondering what tomorrow may bring.