I grew up in North Alabama in a little town called Piedmont. When cotton was king and textiles were attached to most paychecks, the town in the foothills of the Appalachians couldn’t have been more picturesque. It had a seasonal queen that waved in the various parades for many occasions, all moving down a oak tree lined Main Street. It’s all gone now. Yes, they sort of still have the parades and people do still live in the town, but that special feeling only limps along in the memories of us who knew it before.
Tired cotton mill houses still line up in neat rows on a myriad of intersecting streets, sheltering people who have to get up in the dark and drive to other towns for work. In place of the train and its tracks, that hauled cotton in and textiles out of the mountains, a bicycle path has been laid and called The Chief Ladiga Trail. I must admit that I love the idea, and it does give the town a sense of fighting against the dying of the light. It was here, while visiting my in-laws this weekend, that I started my beautiful ride.
As I spun my legs into a rhythm, the air was crisp in breeze and heavy in cloud. The color of the hardwood leaves stood hard against the dark evergreens. Leaves spun away from branches, floated to others on the path, and crunched under my wheels. Squirrels darted across the path, only to realize that I was only a few feet away and made a panicked dive back across; crows laughed at everything from above. I had a sense that I was the only person on the planet.
The gradient of the path holds in tiny percentages, bounding toward the Georgia line where the Ladiga Trail morphs into the Silver Comet Trail. The surface transforms from blacktop to poured cement, but the tunnel of color remains the same. The minuscule display of God’s glory in sound and color is enveloping and intoxicating. No iPod. No phone. Just the wind and sounds of His creation singing and rustling and preparing for winter, while deepening the isolation of me and my bike.
Deeper into the woods I rode, slicing through mountains that had been blasted into submission for the train tracks so many, many years ago, leaving high granite banks on both sides of the trail. A farmer in a distant field threw his hand in my direction, as he unhitched a Bush Hog from his tractor; his mix-bred dog barked a couple of times but decided to remain with the old man. It was then that I noticed my speed and cadence. Nature had fueled my passion and driven my purpose for being on a bicycle. The miles were flying by and another forgotten town was coming into view.
Cedartown, Georgia is surrounded by deep gorges and high mountain tops of the Appalachians. It is here where the trail becomes a bit confusing, but if one looks hard enough, the crossings and switch-overs can be found. The town itself is as worn down by time as its little Alabama neighbor. Spinning through a now empty downtown area, the town spills out into another long, yawning stretch of trail that is encapsulated by bright red, golden yellow, and burnt orange woods . . . but not without a warning:
Sixty miles isn’t a normal sixty miles when surrounded by all of the beauty of autumn and the worry of traffic is of no concern. It’s just different. The simplicity and joy of riding a bicycle is restored. Too many times, as of late, I have climbed onto my bike to put in my miles, watch my cadence, keep an eye on my power, check on my heart rate, and basically, just get it done; not to mention doing all of that while trying not to get clipped by a car. A simple machine can make our lives so complicated at times. Eyes up. Look around at where you are and find the beauty in things. Yes, I know that turning your head causes more drag, but so does measuring out your life in coffee spoons . . . to quote my friend, J. Alfred Prufrock.
The name—of it—is ‘Autumn’—
The hue—of it—is Blood—
An Artery—upon the Hill—
A Vein—along the Road—
Great Globules—in the Alleys—
And Oh, the Shower of Stain—
When Winds—upset the Basin—
And spill the Scarlet Rain—
It sprinkles Bonnets—far below—
It gathers ruddy Pools—
Then—eddies like a Rose—away—
Upon Vermilion Wheels— Emily Dickinson