The idea was to plan a scenic, lightly trafficked route from Atlanta to Birmingham through the Talladega National Forest and ride it over a weekend. We wanted to use forest service roads, rail trails and singletrack wherever possible, but we learned later that even the best-planned routes sometimes require deviation. When we found out back in 2013 that Amtrak was planning walk-up bike service on their Crescent line, it got us excited about a future of new bikepacking possibilities. This meant we could leave by bike from our front door, ride to our destination without retracing our steps, buy a ticket and throw the bikes on the train for the trip back. Oh, and drink our faces off all the way back home. It took two years longer than promised for the racks to materialize in Amtrak’s baggage cars, but in 2016 they finally arrived. First stop, Birmingham!
Sean had a general idea of how to get there, but wanted to keep the route as wooded and remote as possible, with the highway miles kept to a minimum. He started by taking us westward out of the city towards the Silver Comet Trail, an ever-expanding greenway stretching from suburban Cobb County across the border into Alabama. In the hopefully-not-too-distant future, the Comet will extend all the way to the Gulf Coast by following some of the Pinhoti Trail through the Talladega National Forest. After crossing into Alabama on the Comet, the route turned south through the forest along fire roads and doubletrack before heading west toward Birmingham along country roads.
In theory this is a route that could be ridden in a weekend, but we wanted to party pace it – and also film it. Our pal Jay Ritchey (of Jay Bird Films) expressed interest in tagging along to test out a new gimbal setup for his camera, so of course we jumped at the chance to become movie stars. Before long the ride had transformed into a Friday through Monday venture – which was fine, as it gave us more time to fuck off.
Early on a balmy October morning, we rolled out of Atlanta from my house…and immediately stopped at everyone else’s house because we had each forgot something. NOW, game on! We filmed a grand depart on the outskirts of downtown, rolling past the city skyline, and made our way to the Silver Comet. After a good 80 or so miles of flat, fast, straight ahead rail trail, we were all too familiar by the end of day one with the Comet’s only flaw: monotony. About halfway to Alabama, one of the Toecutters crew, Donald (who didn’t forget anything, and never does) had to retreat back to Atlanta on account of prior engagements, but said he would meet us that night at camp with some ice cold beers. We passed the time thinking of what the second day’s climbs would look like as we pedaled on through dusk, until we had made it to our first camp.
The first campsite was at Chief Ladiga Campground, just over the Georgia-Alabama border. It was dark enough when we finally arrived that we had no idea what lay beyond the camp, save for the looming shadows of Duggar Mountain through the darkness. After picking out a spot far enough away from a rowdy Cub Scout group near the str