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The Chief Ladiga Trail: A 40-Mile Prelude to a Scenic Marathon Sprint

eebee's picture

Here are some thoughts and memories of our skate-excursion into Alabama, before they fizzle out.

Let me start by saying I'd normally avoid skating 60+ miles in the deep South with temperatures in the mid-90s. However, the Chief Ladiga ("lah-DYE-gah") Trail in Alabama has some version of a water faucet at least every ten miles, and if you're squeamish about drinking strange water, dumping it onto your head works perfectly well.

We've skated the easternmost section of the Silver Comet Trail numerous times over ten years, so we were eager to find out how the westernmost section measured up in comparison. Skating out westwards from the Smyrna trail head in Georgia, you're on smooth asphalt for 13 miles, and just when you're feeling invincible, you hit brushed concrete: tiny ridges that make for tired legs a mere five miles later. I am happy to report that if you can last about 60 miles on brushed concrete, you'll hit smooth asphalt once you cross over into Alabama!

We didn't skate from Atlanta to Anniston last Sunday, however. We drove a good three hours from my home in Gwinnett County, GA, out to the Eubanks Welcome Center in the town of Piedmont, AL, which is somewhere between the 'end' of the trail westwards in Anniston, and the Georgia border eastwards. Parking in Piedmont enabled us to skate 20 miles out, and 20 miles back in one direction, and then 13.5 miles out and back in the other.

At Piedmont headed west, the trail is rough asphalt and somewhat narrower than the busier Atlanta section, but it's flanked by lush greenery and there's not a soul in sight. When we set off we could see the trail straight ahead for a mile. Three miles down the road we could see the trail straight ahead for a mile. Twelve miles down the road...you get the drift. But it's gorgeous! Quiet, undisturbed, teeming with wildlife (Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers, a grey fox, red spiders, blackberries), and just enough contact with the outside world to feel somewhat safe.

After about ten miles, a storm we had been watching finally decided to ignite overhead and we received a welcomed soaking. We skated out from under that cell and came upon the trail head (or end) on the outskirts of Anniston. We sat down and took note of the orchard, barns and bathroom buildings with a shower, no less, while another cell loomed overhead, prompting the local emergency sirens to blare a severe thunderstorm warning. Sitting in the Gazebo surrounded by a deluge and lightning bolts, I resisted the urge to break into a rendition of '16, Going on 17'. The storm held us there for about 30 minutes, and enough time for a cycling couple to return from their ride absolutely drenched. These were quite possibly two of about ten people we saw on the trail the whole day.

Finally the sky cleared a bit and we set back off another twenty miles towards the car, socks squelching. I discovered I had little-to-no grip on my Bont Gen 3 wheels. This made skating very difficult and taxed my quads unnecessarily, as I tried not to lose a leg in either direction. We got back to the car something like five to six hours after leaving it to skate 40 miles! However, this was an exploration, a scout for new skating pastures, so we were chill about our mph average :-). Speaking for myself, I had long-since jettisoned my blue gatorade onto some poor, unsuspecting blades of grass, and couldn't face another gu. Waiting in my trunk in a cooler was a loaf of floppy American bread, super-salty ham and spicy brown mustard. Just the ticket!! We put together then inhaled those sandwiches, and chased them with a snickers bar each. We were conscious of the dwindling daylight hours at this point, and slight disorientation at being a whole time zone behind the norm for us, so we peeled off the nasty socks, donned fresh ones plus damp skates, gave 'em a spray with Dollar General WD 40, and headed off towards the Georgia border.

Confession: at this point I was freaking out that we wouldn't get back before sundown. We had to make sure we reached the border and turned around before 8pm Georgia time. Cell phone service was negligible along the section towards Georgia. If the first 40 miles out to Anniston and back had been a trifle isolated, the section from Piedmont to the border was downright deserted. Counting down the mile markers between miles 9 and 5, the trail was beautiful, dark green, quiet and totally desolate. We didn't see a soul except for a strange houseparty of people out by a pool behind the only house around for ten miles, who were wondering what the hell their dogs were barking at. These little terriers wanted ankle, and right when I turned to pepperspray them, they gave up and walked off.

Checking my watch obsessively, I pushed on at 14, 15, 16 mph uphill!! We'd stop for a pretty bridge photo - then sprint to the next bridge for the next photo. About three miles from the Georgia border I announced in deflated panic that I wasn't going any further because it was just too secluded. Roadskater said 'Let's just go half a mile up to that clearing...', and presto, half a mile later we were out in the open again and closer to a road or two. Then about 1 mile from the border I spied three heavy dogs lolloping across the trail ahead of us, out on the prowl. Again I announced "I'm not going any further and I'm not going anywhere near those dogs!". Roadskater just skated on ahead while I waited for the impending gore. I kept watching and he kept skating...and skating. He skated away. Feeling stupid I skated on after him, realizing that somehow those dogs must've found something more interesting to chase. We found the border, stopped for about 30 seconds in the twilight, and hared on back down the trail to the car, in a rainstorm, of course.

We made it back to the car right about nightfall, and took advantage of the water fountain outside the locked bathrooms at the welcome center, to wash the muddy debris off our legs and skates. Invigorating! We made it home by twelve thirty a.m. back in the normal time zone.


Chief Ladiga Eubanks Welcome Center
202 Dailey Street
Piedmont, Alabama
United States
33° 55' 22.1736" N, 85° 36' 27.306" W
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