Saturday, May 19, 2007

Columbus, Mississippi: One Week Completed

We are now in Columbus, MS, in a very comfortable hotel, and feeling terrific!!! This is our first full day off -- no riding today! And today, our friends from Huntsville, AL will be arriving to join up with us. More on this in a moment.

We are at about the 320 mile point in the UGRR route. We've put about 360 total miles on the bikes since leaving Mobile one week ago this morning. Two days ago, Day #6, we traveled from Livingston to Aliceville, and that was probably the best biking day we have had on the entire trip. Absolutely phenomenal roads! Gently rolling hills through beautiful rural America, virtually no traffic on the roads. We stopped in the very small town of Epes, AL, where the UGRR inaugural riders had told us that they had had great sweet potato pie. We found the place, Gert's Kitchen, had a nice chat with Gert and her husband, ordered veggie Omelets and, although it was only 10 am, that sweet potato pie, and it was great! Eleven miles further down the road, we came to the town of Gainesville, AL, an incredibly cute little town where we stopped and had an extended conversation with numerous town residents and the postmistress, and on her recommendation, bought a couple of slices of "hoop" cheese (a local cheddar) along with a fresh bottle of gatorade. This is the kind of traveling we were looking for, and we really enjoyed this. Later in the day, we picked up some head winds which made the biking a little harder, crossed the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway again, and rolled into Aliceville.

Time out here to make a few points. One, the fact that we keep crossing the Tombigbee River is not coincidence. The people who were trying to secretly make their way north along the Underground Railroad were taught, word of mouth, that their best route was to "follow the drinking gourd" (their name for the Big Dipper constellation and the pointers to the North Star), and to follow the rivers to get there. The Tombigbee River was a major route north for them.

Second point, our final approach to Aliceville was on one of those very heavily traveled state roads, SR 17, where we just had to ride in the shoulder wherever possible. Lots of trucks. In particular, lots of Logging Trucks. We have found that the logging industry here is huge. We were told by one truck driver that 60% of the U.S.'s logging needs is met by products coming out of this area. We have passed numerous paper and wood processing plants, and the larger state roads around those plants carry a continual caravan of logging trucks. Trucks filled with huge (50-75 feet long) trunks of yellow pine, extending far beyond the back of the truck, and other trucks, empties, returning for new hauls. We have also passed huge tracks of timber lands, filled with pine, other sections that had already been harvested, looking pretty trashed with the debris of unusable trunks and branches, and still other sections that have obviously been replanted, a young crop of pine trees taking hold. Our most immediate interest in all of this is the awareness of the trucks for the sake of safety, but the bigger picture is quite interesting. By the way, the logging trucks have a reputation of thinking that they own the road, and barreling down the road faster than even the longer-distance truckers. They DO indeed go fast, but we have found them all to try to give us a wide berth when they pass. We do the same for them, and we seem to be able to coexist on the road just fine. But experiencing the blast of wind coming from one of those trucks rushing by you is something that you don't easily forget.

Final point: Our backcountry riding took us past many pastures filled with cows and horses that had obviously never seen people on bikes before, and their reactions have been humorous. They definitely take note. Often, those lying down will stand up, sometimes curiously, other times with a start. I've enjoyed calling out to them, just saying "hello" as you would to a puppy, but they are not sure about us! On a couple of occasions, we found a whole herd go into a mini-stampede as we passed. Yeehaw!!!

Aliceville, AL. On entry into the town, we saw two historic markers, one noting an old Coca Cola Bottling Plant that used to be there, the other noting that this was the location of a camp for German Prisoners of War during World War II. That we found interesting, and decided we'd try to find out more. After a little hassle trying to find a hotel (the UGRR map listed 3 hotels here, but 2 of them are actually in another town 20 miles away! The 3rd one was there, though, and worked out just fine), we rode around the town a little, found the library, and had a great dinner and a restaurant in a historic house that was built by one of the wood company owners in the early 1900's. The next morning, we went to the Aliceville Museum, a large part of which was dedicated to the POW camp, and it was fascinating. Well worth taking an hour out and seeing. The curator there was extremely accommodating and informative, and we learned what it meant for the POWs to be shipped overseas as prisoners, not sure how they would be treated, the towns people, fearful in advance of these prisoners coming into their community, and how the two groups found their own equilibrium in the situation. We saw a video that had been made with first person interviews with people who worked there, and with former German soldiers who were interred there. Very, very interesting.

Day 7 (yesterday) was supposed to be a short, easy day, 33 miles from Aliceville to Columbus MS. It was a beautiful day, beautiful roads, everything was great, except.... head winds. A very stiff wind was in our face most of the day, and really made the biking hard. But we made it in, and now have our day off, and the arrival of our longtime Huntsville, AL friends to look forward to. The plans are that Bonnie and Steve Herold are driving MaryBeth and Jim Chamberlain and their bikes here to Columbus this morning. We are going to take a hopefully quick trip over to Starkville, MS, about 25 miles west of here, to go to a bike shop to get some adjustments made to our bikes, and then the 6 of us will enjoy a visit here today and tonight. All will stay here in the hotel tonight. Then, in the morning, Bonnie & Steve will return to Huntsville, and the Chamberlains and we will load ourselves back on our bikes, and we will progress up the UGRR trail as a foursome for the next 4-5 days. We're really looking forward to all of this!


Peter said...

Mike and Joan, great updates. I appreciated your note about headwinds. You might recall I've taken many winter cross-country skiing trips to our cabin in Canada. A couple years ago we decided to ski to "the cliffs" - a 500' granite face that goes right into the lake - about a 12 mile round trip, all on the lake. The day started out beautiful - 5 degrees, not a cloud. Light winds at our back all the way. The trip home was a different story. By then, the wind had picked up to a steady 25mph breeze, now in our face. Needless to say, it was a long, hard ski back! So maybe those headwinds on a nice warm Alabama day won't seem so bad when you think about the below zero wind chills we had...

Mike said...

Thanks, Pete... we will try to remember this one for inspiration! At least for us, we can stop, find a shade tree and rest for a while. Not sure what you can do about cold Canadian winds, except keep plowing ahead!

Maribeth said...

Well written article.