Ride Report: ATL to Chattanooga

My pal from the Great White North, Jeremy, has decided that regular riding is insufficient, so he’s gone to the dark side and become a triathlete. Gross, I know, but he swears he doesn’t pee on his bike, and he still wears socks. So when he told me he would do the half Ironman in Chattanooga if I’d come up and cheer him on, I figured it would be a perfect time to ride up there.

In planning my route, I stumbled upon US Bicycle Route 21. U.S. Bicycle Route 21 (USBR 21) is Georgia’s first U.S. Bicycle Route designation. It connects Atlanta to Chattanooga on the Tennessee border and goes from downtown Atlanta to the heart of Chattanooga. The route is new, but will eventually connect Atlanta to Cleveland!

The freshness of the route presented me with a slight challenge – there wasn’t a single ride report online, and I had no idea what to expect as far as food and lodging. The route is about 160 miles, and I had intended to do it over two days. I needn’t have worried about food, as the route is so perfectly planned that I didn’t have to pack anything. More on that shortly…

As for lodging, that turned out to be a non issue as well. Around 2pm, Jeremy called and said that he’d left so early and driven so fast from Toronto that he’d be in Chattanooga that evening. I checked my mileage and had already done about 110 miles. So I pushed through, and we were drinking beers at the fine bar attached to the Days Inn by dinner time.

Back to the route. Eventually, these USBR will cover over 50k miles across the country! I was absolutely blown away by how thorough the route planning was. When I saw the cue sheet, I noticed a TON of turns. Some that seemed to add distance for no reason. I soon figured out the reason.

The first 60 miles takes the rider from Five Points train station in downtown Atlanta to the Silver Comet rail trail. You ride the Comet until you get to Cedartown just before the Alabama border. Then you head north through Cedartown on its Main Street. What a cool little town! I’ve probably ridden around it two dozen times before and missed the whole time capsule look of the place.

As the route continues north, it passes through beautiful rolling farmland, at least a dozen small towns, and enough creeks and rivers to stay plenty cool. If the town is quaint and rustic, the route takes you right through it. If, instead, the town is a gross, chain restaurant type of spot, the route skirts right around it. And all those turns? They keep you on the most beautiful, car free stretches out there. To the point that if a road was unattractive or trafficked, I knew I’d overshot a turn!

I stopped for lunch at a regrettably bland cheeseburgery, which not only took FOREVER, but also overcooked my frozen patty. I hadn’t talked to anyone in about 6 hours, so I welcomed the slightly drunk dude at the bar’s incessant questioning. He wanted to know everything about my bike, and how I planned to ride another 60 miles before dark (dark was like seven hours away), and whether I had ever heard of him (he had apparently achieved mild success as a country singer, though his name escaped me at the time and still does) and then he bought my lunch and wished me luck and told me his uber had arrived. It was pretty awesome — except for the burger.

Jeremy killed his Ironman, even though he made us eat at Olive Garden the night before. (True Confession: I wasn’t mad.) Chattanooga is an AMAZING city to ride a bike around – from bike lanes EVERYWHERE to awesome drivers to insane climbs just minutes from downtown. And one of the coolest house/vehicle combos I’ve ever seen.

The ride home to Atlanta was just as killer. A dozen sprints away from chasing dogs, 138 cows (I counted), some camera-shy baby goats, 4 corndogs, slaloming to avoid bullfrogs at dusk, a Public Enemy fueled pep talk in a trailhead bathroom 8 miles from home, and two tired (albeit shockingly smooth & tanned) legs.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for the USBR system. If you have a chance to ride one, jump on it.