Archive for the ‘Ride loops in Alabama’ Category

The Alabama FireTower Show | Fire Lookouts in Alabama

Just playing with a concept, and a way to make this interesting for myself and others – combining motorcycle riding and exploring history and fire towers. Might be fun, might be something interesting that I continue. Tell me what you think?


The Road Speaks

This may be a new concept to you, but for me the road has been speaking to me for a few years.  The main thing that I started really paying attention to a few years back is markers.  You know, you see them, crosses on the side of the road.  Many time they are in turns, and the crosses and flower are mounted to guard rails, but you also see many in ditches, bridge railings, and intersections.  you can really tell a LOT about death on the road by paying attention to where these markers are.  If you could plot a map of the markers,

My guess is absolutely.  I think it might even be very disturbing.  Questions arise like – “Why are there no warning signs?”  or”  Why is there not a caution light, or stop sign?”

  But I have always heard that the state uses statistics to determine where the trouble areas are.  But is that really true?  Where would they be?  If you could do a statistical study of death on the road, plot those points on a map, could you see a pattern?

So it might be something we can do, plot out all the road markers left by loved ones.  We know someone died close by.  Put them on a map, look for patterns.  I wonder what they would turn up?

Certainly we could show that tricky turns and blind intersections are dangerous.  Twisty roads that have very small margins for error, or lacking guardrails would be at the top of the list.  I always look for the chevrons – directional arrows, yellow and black.  They are there for a reason, typically folks have run off the road, found themselves in a ditch or worse.  Those seem to me to be the most important markers – put there by the state – a “watch out, this is dangerous”.  Many times there are crosses nearby.  It always makes me wonder, what was this guys story.  I wish they could speak.  Tell me what happened, and what to look out for.  Maybe we could all learn something from the crash?

Crooked roads, creeks, cliffs, and Cricket’s

So the big goal for this Saturday was to ride, then finish the day at Cricket’s, which may, in my opinion be the best wings in Alabama, and perhaps the southeast.  Since the eating part was taken care of,  riding was the only real choice – and there looked to be a couple option.  Dual sport the Wheeler Wildlife Area, or street ride north Alabama.  Since

I had never ridden the WWA, I assumed it to be swampy and muddy, and the big bike does not like mud, so I opted to meet Beck at 2pm.  When I showed up, there was no Beck, so I took an opportunity to do some exploring, looking for crooked roads, creeks and cliffs.  Luckily, I found a few.

First, I went looking for a cave and a spring, at Cave Spring.  There is a Cave Spring Church, and I traveled down Cave Spring Road, but no luck.  Next I headed north toward the mountains.   I found a private RR crossing, and a cliff with a stop sign – lucky for me that sign was there, because I NEVER pay attention to no trespassing signs like the one behind it.  Of course the road to get there was awesome, lots of twists and descents, and a few places to gasp at the awesome views.

 

 

Finally, I would up riding towards Paint Rock Valley and I knew the roads were crooked, had a creek (river) and some decent dirt roads, so I took the turn.  Turns out, Beck was riding out there too – weird?  So I took my time, and stopped to take a peek and some places along the river I had never looked closely at, but had been curious about.  For instance – is it possible to cross this river here?  Not sure I really want to find out today without ropes and pulleys, and a rescue team.

Next stop, Tennessee – since I was this close, might as well.  I climbed the mountain and found an interesting dirt road to explore.  I was stopped not too far up the road, as it turned into a jagged, big rock trail, with only a few options – most looked painful.  About that time Johnny Robinson finally texted me that he was headed to Cricket’s.  Since the sun would be down soon, I decided it was time to turn around and head that way too.

When I arrived, there was a table outside, giggling at the Yeti as I squeezed the bike into the pile in the parking slot.  The waitress walked over to the bike as I was ungearing, and took my beer order.  I LOVE Cricket’s.  Not long after, I was eating wings and yucking it up with the gang.  Great day to ride, and a wonderful way to end it, chomping and laughing with friends.

 

Ride to Davis Ferry – a motorcycle ferry tale, or How to Service a Battery

David Haynes (WRBS) has been talking about the Davis Ferry since the first time I met him over a year ago.  From the first time we talked about it, I expressed an interest – I always enjoy unique and interesting rides and destinations.  I believe there are only 3 ferries left operating in Alabama.  The stars aligned and we set out early on Wednesday morning, headed down south for our first stop in Thomaston – at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center .  David had set up an interview with a board member to discuss the Center and the upcoming Pepper Jelly Festival for an upcoming article in Alabama Living.  After sitting in on the interview, we had a quick visit to the gift shop at the center, where they displayed a wall of pepper jelly, and rows of folk art from Alabama artisans, a few of which David had met and interviewed.  After awarding us with some pepper jelly, we were on our way south to the ferry.

Arriving at the end of the pavement, we encountered what looked like a controlled-burn of the woods, as we entered the dirt section leading to the Alabama River and Davis Ferry.  At the end of the road, a family had setup a fishing spot in front of our bikes, but reported no bites “due to wind”.  We munched on “lunch” and waited for the ferrymen to get back from their lunch break.  We saw Bart (Bartab) roll up on the other side, as we noticed some activity and the other side of the river spring to life.  A few minutes later, the ferry cranked up, and a plume of water came up on the side of the craft – they were under way.  They more than half way across when I realized the water-plume was formed from a paddle-wheel, just like the steam boats.  One, thinly-constructed paddle-wheel was moving that large craft across the swift Alabama River.  It was worth the trip just to see that antique in operation, a bonus to get to ride across.

As the craft landed, Bart rode his Triumph Tiger onto the ramp like a Marine landing on the beach on D-Day.  He was the only traveler, and quickly turned around to board the craft again with us.  On board, we hardly felt movement, but the craft moved us to the other side quite quickly, maybe 200 yards across.  Upon landing on the other side, the operators hustled us off, and we wandered through the park that ran along the side of the river.

This is where our trouble began.

 

Bart had explained why his engine was running the whole time we were crossing – he was having issues with his motorcycle battery .  He commented he had another battery just in case, but did not want to fool with it if he did not have to.  So we rolled to the end of the park, and as we were leaving Bart stalled the bike.  No big deal, he has another battery, right?  He quickly installs the battery, hits the start button and we hear the whine starter, but no engine spinning.

 

So after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, an attempt to pull the engine case loose, and more bump-starting-by-tow-rope, we decide to pull it to the top of the hill.  Well that turned into let’s-tow-it-30-miles to the first mechanic we can find, or sign of civilization, or whichever comes first.  Pretty hairy stuff pulling any bike, with a bike.  Hairy for the puller AND the skier, pulling uphill, on a dirt road, then almost 30 more miles up and down hills and twisty roads, we were experts by the time we arrived at M&S Auto in Camden.

Bart strolled in, asked if we could simply leave the bike inside his shop until tomorrow.  Certainly no hayseed from Camden would know anything about a sophisticated European adventure machine.  How could he know anything more than 5 grown men, probably with a combined 100+ years of riding and mechanical skills, that were unable to diagnose a complex electrical problem?  He insisted he might be able to solve the problem, and have us back on the road.  So instead of insulting the hayseed, Bart removed seat, and pointed towards the battery.  In less than 2 minutes, the hayseed expert mechanic pointed out the problem – the battery was spun around and the terminals were crossed.  Within 15 minutes, the hayseed engine surgeon had changed the fuse, charged the battery, and had the bike running again, with all of our tails between our legs – how did we miss that?  How did the starter turn (albeit backwards)?  Lights came on?

Glad we got it back running, I should have tipped the guy – it was worth $20 not to have Bart riding BITCH all the way back to Hoover.

Giant Chicken, Dothan, AL and Unrideable Rains: A Ride Report

Teachers are lucky or maybe just smart. Two and a half months off once a year, why am I not a teacher? My better half is and as soon as the last bell rings, she takes the kids south to be with her family and leaves me here to feed the animals. These getaways usually happen a couple times each summer and include lakes, beaches, beer, wine and all varieties of good time. This year I got wise and decided to go down for a couple days and we’d take the kids to the beach. I’d get in on some of the fun and I’d get to spend some time in the saddle.

  I left Thursday morning about 6:30am. Bluff Park is generally a few degrees colder than the city proper and this day was no exception. It was just starting to get light and when I pulled out it wasn’t just chilly, I was downright cold. Blowing through my neighborhood, I hit 65S and merged through the light traffic before splitting to 459. Getting off on 280, I was surprised at how bad traffic had already gotten. More than I expected but not so much that I wasn’t able to blow through most of it and up Double Oak Mountain.
I’ve always liked roads like this one and 31. Small towns, lots of independent businesses. It is casual, easy riding and my time is usually spent getting all my mental ducks in a row. Head clearing time like this is far too rare sometimes and I enjoy it when I get it. I thought as I got out onto the main roads and the sun got higher in the sky it would warm up. The sky was overcast and I stayed cold.
Right around Sylacauga I saw the signs for 231S and got ready to exit. I’ve ridden this route before to get to my destination: Dothan, AL. In case you don’t know, Dothan is the Peanut Capital of the World. Every November they throw a peanut festival and have even expanded, building a park just to house the festival. I’ve been, it was fun. It is a carnival type deal with rides, concerts, contests, etc. Good stuff for the entire family.
231 is good old fashioned back road. Nothing twisty, challenging or crazy but solid varied riding. You get everything from woods to open fields to small towns and typical small town speed traps. It was still pretty cold at this point and when I got on 231 it actually was briefly a little colder. It actually didn’t heat up until a good while later. I stopped at an interesting looking graveyard just to take a few photos and stretch my legs.

I was getting hungry and could have (not desperately) used gas. I started looking for a nice mom and pop cafe or diner to get a bite. I passed several that looked good waiting for the one that looked great and most likely missed a killer breakfast. I gassed up at a small station and went inside to pay and use the facilities. There were several old timers sitting around the register desk bs’ing and chain smoking. This is the type of charm you don’t get on the main roads. The clerk looked like he probably owned the place and had for some time. He was friendly and asked where I was headed. I drank a YooHoo and ate a granola bar in the parking lot. I shot a quick text to the wife to let her know where I was as cell service on 231 can be spotty at times.
Back on the road I turned the music in my ear-buds up and really enjoyed just being on the bike. Most of 231, other than the towns, has a 65mph limit. I was not in any hurry so I kept it around there. If something caught my eye, I slowed down. If I was really interested I stopped. Sometimes there is too much to see, like a group of hotels that all have cool old neon signs or a strip of curiosity shops. I do have a destination today and I could spend all day looking at stuff like that so I press on. I did see a something that had to be captured on film so I did pull a u-turn and snap a shot.

Going through Troy I got a little mist but nothing too terrible. I pressed on and arrived at my brother-in-law’s place. I caught up with my wife and kids and we headed out for lunch. Several years ago, an independent study found that Dothan, AL was the best city in the united states to open a restaurant. Hence, the main road in Dothan, Ross Clark Dr, is covered in restaurants. My wife has her favorites from her high school years and she wanted me to try one so we settled on Mexican Connection. I love my wife but from this day forth will forever question her taste in Mexican food. I do have a new rule: if the name of the Mexican restaurant is not in Spanish, it will not be good.
Over the remainder of the day and the next we did a bunch of fun family stuff, including a day at Panama City Beach. This town should be renamed “Teenagers on Rented Scooterville.” I got to hang out with my brother-in-law who rides and was my companion on my trip to Canada and a subsequent trip to NC. He has a killer old Ironhead Chop which I keep telling him needs some of his attention. Its condition has not changed, much to my chagrin. I won’t bore you with any more family stuff…back to riding.
I looked at the weather before I left and it appeared it would be smooth sailing. Things changed and there was a bad line of storms that was supposed to move into Dothan the night before my departure and stick around throughout the day. I had planned to attend the Annual Slocumb Tomato Festival and leave for home after lunch but if I woke up to rain or threats of rain, I was going to tear ass back to Birmingham.
In my estimation, there are only two types of rainstorms: rideable and unrideable. Traveling in one can quickly become the other and that means seeking shelter, delays, etc. These things can turn a four hour ride into a six hour ride. In these cases, it is good to have some extra time on the clock.
I planned on getting up around 6am to survey the situation. Thanks to cooking out, drinking beer and swapping lies into the wee hours, I slept in. My backup wristwatch alarm saved my bacon or else I might not have fared as well as I did. I awoke and did my best not to stir my wife and children. I dressed, got my stuff together, put the pack on the bike and got a quick breakfast. There was hot coffee and butter rum muffins (yep, every bit as good as they sound) so I was not going to leave without having a couple of those. Everyone was up at this point so I was able to give out proper goodbyes.
 It was looking good outside. There were no storms and I felt good about my chances to beat the rain, stay ahead of the storms and make it home dry. I didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood and onto the main road when I felt the first drops. I needed gas and to put on my rain gear. This consists of a single black bandana that I keep in my back left pocket. I tie it around my face as that is where, to me, the raindrops hurt the most. I got back on the road and cranked the music to try and keep my mind off what had moved past mist and to full blown rain.
For the next stretch through Dothan, to Ozark, and onto Troy my life was pretty interesting. All the while I was certain that I was merely flirting with the edge of what was a much worse beast. There were times when I swear I felt myself pulling away from it when I would feel the drops grown greater in number and I would worry that I was about to be overcome at any moment. I stared at the sky always feeling that the patch ahead of me was clearer and dryer than the patch I was currently under. I cursed the small towns in between and dreaded seeing signs that read “Reduced Speed Ahead.” I kept at a consistent 75mph when I could until I hit the outskirts of Troy. That is when the real rain started.
  In every bad rain I’ve ever ridden in, the unrideable rains, there has been that split second where you can see what you are about to ride into. You see the drops intensify and grow larger and your brain has but a moment to prepare for what is coming. In an instant you are wet, soaked through. No bandana was going to spare me from painful impacts. Moisture was on both sides of the lenses of my glasses and my breath made fog. It was a recipe for blindness. At times like this I always pull the glasses down a bit and navigate my path through the thin line of vision. I got through Troy riding like this. I contemplated riding on but I was tense and I felt heavy from the water. I kept on and out of the corner my my eye I saw an abandoned gas station with an inviting overhang. I made a u-turn and pulled in.

I got off the bike and quickly the dry area under the port was getting wet from all of the water dripping off of my clothes. I removed my earphones, if I was going to continue I needed to concentrate. I wrung out my leather gloves. The dye had turned my hands a mustard yellow and the water coming off of them had the same hue. I did the same with my shirt and bandana. Every step I took, I came down into a puddle inside my boots. I dumped them out and wrung my socks out too. I was feeling lighter and better, it was good to have a break. I texted back and forth with my wife, let her know I was ok but telling here where I was and what I was riding in. I checked the weather on my phone. Montgomery, a mere 50 miles away, was clear.

I waited for a break in the storm and got back on. The first few minutes were rainy but much lighter. Eventually it all lifted and the only water hitting me was coming off the bike. I was still pretty wet and just like Thursday, I was cold the remainder of the ride. Making the stop when I did was probably the best decision I made the entire trip. That small amount of time and de-watering did so much to improve how I felt and how comfortable I would be for the rest of the day.
Rain was also due in Birmingham in the afternoon so I opted to pickup 65N in Montgomery proper. I stopped for gas, there were no old timers. I hit the interstate and made good time all the way home. It started out rough but turned into a killer day of riding. Even the bad stuff is an adventure and I dig having experiences like that. While you are in them all you want is to get out of them but strangely, I always look back on them so fondly. Typing this makes me want to get back out on the road.  Read more at  JT’s blog