Mostly recaps of two wheeled rambles through the countryside, but sometimes thoughts on other things.

Monday, May 30, 2011

AMBA - 2011

A couple of months ago, Max asked if I might be interested in doing a multi day tour with him and he suggested the AMBA (Alabama's Magnificent Biking Adventure) as an option. I agreed on both accounts and we signed up for 4 of the 7 days the tour runs. Based in a static location, you set up camp once and go on daily routes to points of interest. When you get back, your vehicle is available if needed. We could have stayed at a hotel, or a park cabin (air conditioned!) but we roughed it in Max's Columbia tent.

We're at Chewacla State Park, near Auburn, Alabama. This was a large site, with a pair of plumbed bathrooms on site and a shower facility available not too far away. We parked by the tent and pedaled from here both Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, the routes required us to drive to a remote start point. We arrived Tuesday night and not knowing any of the lay of the land, we got back in the car after making camp and drove to Provencini's in Opelika, which Max knew of and which was very good.

Each day, we started out with a good breakfast provided by Mama Ralphael. This couple caters bike rides in many places, including Ragbrai. They were pleasant people and have lived on a boat, cycled all over, and obtained their mobile kitchen via Ebay. Here it is:

Coffee was always ready by 5:30, although the official serving time was 6:00. It was very stout bodied stiff too and available with real 1/2 and 1/2, and flavored syrups. Unexpected comfort out in the woods!

All the routes for the week were provided when we checked in, along with the requisite Tee shirt, local promo items and some samples of peanuts. The ditty bag they all came in was pretty useful. It saw service as a shower stuff tote all week.

Each day, the route was marked with a different color and symbol, usually related to a food theme. Overall maps and turn by turn directions were provided. The maps were not useful, so we went by the turn by turns and markings. The mileage on the turn points was sometimes off, but the roads themselves were not, so we were able to check the Garmin maps and be more sure of our path, when questions arose, as they did several times.

Our 1st day, we looked for blue snakes and arrows. Leaving the campsite, we pedaled across a grassy field, then a dirt road, then coarse pavement and then finally a bike trail. Here I am ready to adventure!

Not knowing what I'd need, I ended up with a Kelty 70 oz hydration pack and just 1 of the water bottles. The pack alone proved sufficient and from then on, the bottles stayed home. Max and I started off together, but my Garmin kept confusing his cadence sensor and mine, so I asked him to let me drop back some (50' or so) in order to re-scan for it. While I was thus focused, Max turned left down Mill Creek Rd, while I pedaled ahead on the bike path. I came to US 29, no Max. He does get bursts of happy legs and accelerates out of view at times so I figured I'd find him at the next turn. Meanwhile, he was waiting at the bottom of a hill waiting for ME to show up. I turned on to Lee CR 10 as instructed, but no Max. It was very foggy and my glasses were near useless, so I took them off and just pedaled. I could see better without them, truthfully. Max finally took off as well, and as it turned out, I should have gone left as he did, but not before calling my phone 15 times and leaving 3 voice mails. Fact, a phone in a backpack, in traffic, is hard to hear. When I got the 1st rest stop, the fog had lifted, and when I checked my phone, I saw he had called and got a hold of him. Turns out we were only a few miles apart and I waited there for him to re connect. Nothing fancy at the rest stops, but always enough to eat and drink and always nice friendly volunteers.

This one was at a volunteer fire station in Reeltown, AL. Riders from NC and OH are in the picture. In fact, locals were in the minority here. We met riders from MI, WI, GA and MO in addition to some from Huntsville. We were the only Montgomery area folks along.

Our Weds route took us to the Lake Martin Dam, where we had a neat tour of the inner workings of the hydro-electric generation unit by Alabama Power Company staff. To get there, we had to climb some long 13% grades on a hot day! We did get to a scenic overlook though and it was nice. Here's Max, the hill climb conqueror!

Some pictures of the Lake Martin, the dam and power station.

Yes, the place is FULL of purple martins. You could almost reach out and grab one. The crane on tracks below is used to lift open the floodgates when the lake level is lowered. The lake is about 160' deep by the dam.
These generators have been in continuous service since 1926. If it ain't broke...

After the tour, we pedaled on to Niffers on lake Martin for lunch. It was a pasta casserole buffet and came with the ride. Not scrumptious, but satisfying, and the staff was very attentive. Then we climbed some more and headed to the final rest stop of the day. It was noted as mile 59, but at 59 miles, no rest stop. Another pair of riders coming towards us advised us to reverse course because we had all missed a turn. Max and I consulted the Garmin maps and decided to push on another 1 1/2 miles from where we were, and sure enough, at mile 64, we found the rest stop. The other folks gave up a little too soon. Eventually they figured it out and came up while we were still eating our snacks. The final pull back to the campsite was all dead into the wind. Just what you want after 5,000' of climb... By the end of the day, Max still looked pretty fresh, me not so much..

Dinner was a hamburger cookout at the campsite which was tasty (doesn't EVERYthing taste better when you are tired and hungry?) Following dinner, we were regaled by an excellent musical ensemble made up of current and former Auburn U faculty and staff. They did mostly folk-rock and indie tunes under the pavilion and I sat until my eyes grew heavy listening contentedly, before heading off to bed.

Thursday was an easier ride but had more to stop and see. We headed to Tuskegee and saw the George Washington Carver museum which has good displays of his work with peanuts, fabric dyes, paints, and many other indigenous materials that poor locals could make use of to improve their lives on meager budgets. He was a very creative and energetic man.

We also rode through the pleasant Tuskegee University campus and toured the Booker T Washington home. This was a class project for his industrial students and is very impressive. Before going in, I needed to do a repair to my right brake which had slid down the handlebars. Having tools at hand, it was a simple matter to find some shade, unwrap the 1/2 bar and relocate the brake, then re wrap the bar.

Here is an outside view of the house

Some interesting inside features: A very short stair rail, as his wife was under 5' tall, and an ornate desk set he received as a gift from the Chinese. The 1st black man invited by a US president for a White House dinner, Teddy Roosevelt (his host) memorabilia is also preserved the office.

Following our time around the college, we went over to Moton field for a rest stop and a tour 0f the Tuskegee Airmen Museum. While stopping for an unscheduled gas station break, I noticed this novel approach to outreach ministry:

The Airman Museum was small, but well done. An old wooden hangar with a smattering of all the aspects of the training that went on there as well as some history of the unit's performance in battle (which was valorous).

We headed back towards Auburn via Notasulga and were delighted to see that the ice cream stand which was under construction when we last passed by this way in the late summer was now open for business! A couple of riders were already there, and we pulled in at the "Dog House" for some ice cream. It was just the thing on a hot day to give a rider a good break. The afternoon wore increasingly windier and cloudier and we knew there was a rain chance in the forecast but we made it all the way back to camp again, dry except for our own sweat. To be continued

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