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Not-Quite-Atlanta to Not-Quite-Anniston: Another 94 miles on the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga Trails

eebee's picture

Much like the night before the 2009 Carolina Century, I found myself sat bolt upright in bed at 3am on Sunday, worrying out loud about that day's inclement weather forecast, and our intention to skate 94 miles. Except this time I wasn't listening to the wind howl or acorns rattling on the roof, but wondering just how warranted the dangerous air quality forecast and excessive heat advisory were.

"We're all going to end up in the hospital!".

After about three hours sleep Roadskater and I managed to pile everything into my car and drive an hour to Tomb's house on the Silver Comet Trail, where we offloaded some post-skate snacks and a change of clothing. His wife had generously agreed to drive 2 hours over to Anniston, AL, to pick us up at the end of the day.

It was 8 am when we arrived at the trail head parking lot at Mavell Road in Smyrna - and it was already packed full of cyclists and runners, trying to get a headstart on the sweltering heat for the day. Tomb, Roadskater and I grouped up around 8.30am and set off for Alabama.

About two miles into our trek, Roadskater's axles were clicking like a large roach, and I realized my Garmin 305 was still set on running mode. I was not able to figure out on the fly how to switch it over to 'other' mid-workout, so I lost the first 4 miles of data. As we fixed our minor issues at the 4 mile marker Floyd Road trail head, we met a skating couple from New York and chatted for a while.

With the morning sun still low in the sky, the hedgerows provided ample shade to keep us cool for the first three hours or so. I don't remember much about the first 13 miles except seeing hordes of cyclists out on the trail. This was by far the most cyclists I had ever seen on the Silver Comet.

The juddering started at mile 13's brushed-concrete section, which lasts pretty much all the way through to the other side of Rockmart, GA, at 37 miles. That's where it changes periodically back to asphalt, then clickety-clack smooth concrete-block sections. We had decided to stop at the Coot's Lake convenience store at mile 33.5 to load up on refreshments, knowing it was going to be tough going until the convenience store in Cedartown at mile 51. Daytime heating started to ramp up, and sitting outside the Coot's Lake convenience store, the sun made a mockery of my SPF 30 lotion and got cracking on my skin underneath. I guzzled a 32 fl oz Citrus Cooler Gatorade, and attempted to stuff Hot 'n' Spicy Cheez-its packets into my jersey pockets. I failed and ended up carrying the plastic shopping bag all the way to Cedartown. The salty rewards were worth it later!

So far this year on long skating trips, I have not needed any Gatorade mix in my hydro-pack, and had hoped to be able to avoid it on Sunday's journey. However, just three hours into our skate I conceded that pre-mixed, expensive convenience store Gatorade would be an essential non-bonking tool that day. I ended up drinking about 100 fl oz of the stuff, at least 135 fl oz of ice water, a 20 oz coke and another 40 oz of warmish water from drinking fountains.

Once we had been on the trail for a few hours, I finally let go of my heat-exhaustion fears and was able to enjoy the now-familiar challenge of the steep twists that are the hills between Rockmart and Cedartown. This was still in Georgia, but getting out there into the sticks towards the Alabama border. Tomb demonstrated his front T-Stop braking (a la Jonathan at the GSO Skate Farm workshop) and some very tight slalom turns down several of the T-intersections into gravely street crossings. These are some useful souvenirs he brought back from his recent Skate Farm workshop (or maybe he already knew how to do them!).

We grouped up on a sun-soaked bench at the foot of what someone has termed 'Surprise Hill' on the Silver Comet Trail website. I hoped to make it up the hill without stopping this year, and Roadskater reminisced Tomb's missing toe-wheel from last year's skate as he made the ascent. The temperature was well into the nineties by this time, and this particular climb cuts a white-hot concrete path through a bed of bright orange mud. This year I felt okay enough on the ascent to remark on the stinky landfill, south of the path. However, it took all the determination I had to make it up the hill without stopping, and by the time I got to the top I was braying like a donkey rather than breathing like a human.

A couple of roller-coaster slopes later we regrouped on a shady bench overlooking a distant farm - possibly the landowners' who rejected a nice, straight trail through their property? In any case, their horses looked very peaceful from afar. The following downhill S-bend proved a little intimidating, and Tomb mentioned later that it would have been helpful if the trail designers had banked that curve so that we wouldn't be thrown to the outside on the way down. Roadskater and I left 75% of our remaining brake pads on that hill!

For this year's 94 mile Sort-of-A-to-Sort-of-A (outside Atlanta to outside Anniston), I sectioned the trip into thirds in my mind. The first third would be the fun, populated and straight Silver Comet Trail section to Coot's Lake. The middle third would include the hellish section between Rockmart and Cedartown, through the baking, open sky-diver landscape, and take us over the 15 mile headache of the dead-straight, rugged concrete climb up to the Georgia - Alabama border. This is the section where you start to see signs of impending doom, where your brain translates the words on the no-cellphone-reception-warning signs to "You're SOL, sucker! What are you doing out here anyway?". The final third for me starts at the border, includes a beautiful trail section that I can unfortunately never appreciate at that point, several small towns in Alabama, winding down at the end of the trail on the outskirts of Anniston.

I don't recall being aware of as much wild life this year as last year. The only snake we saw was a regular green snake making its way across the concrete, which I didn't see until the last minute and almost ran over. I think the snake was far more perplexed by the encounter than I was: its entire form took on the jagged appearance of a violin oscilloscope graphic as my shrill 'SN-A-A-A-KE!!' warning shuddered through its body.

In the stifling heat up on the border-crossing, all my concentration powers had gone and neurons were firing out of time in my head. Random songs from the past blew through my mind like high-speed passenger trains. Roadskater blurted out 'No wind!'. Then followed Tammi Terrell's 'No rain!', and I had  'Ain't no Mountain High Enough' on repeat for the next thirty minutes. I said it last year and I'll say it again this year: there is no water-source at the Georgia - Alabama border on this trail, so load up as much as you can with fluids at the Cedartown train station trail head because you'll have to make it all the way to Piedmont, Alabama.

Hot 'n' bothered, the three of us set off on the now mostly downhill trail towards the town of Piedmont, where Tomb could get his next installment of chocolate milk, and Roadskater could get some Coke and 3-in-1-oil for his squeaky bearings. All of us found this section leading into Piedmont to be painfully slow and neverending. I had to summon up sheer willpower once again to make it those last two miles into town. "It's hard to want to stay...awaa-aaa-aake!" (Death Cab for Cutie's Kerouac/Big Sur tribute: 'Bixby Canyon Bridge'). We took control of the water-fountain outside the Piedmont welcome-station, where Roadskater gave himself an Aquafina-bottle shower to cool off.

Part of my cooling strategy this year, that I learned during last year's episode, was always to have at least some kind of water (cool, warm, even hot) in a hand-held bottle for dousing along the way. I was not sweating enough after mile 50 to benefit from any of nature's air conditioning, so needed to help it along by half-drowning myself as I skated. It works very well when my hydro-pack water tastes like perforated rubber.

The final 18 miles were tough, and I was doubtful by mile 89 that I would finish. This was frustrating for me because I had felt super until about mile 74. Oh well! That's what drafting is for, so I tucked in behind Roadskater for the last 5 miles. I was in survival mode, and everything ached.

I smelled cows at one section and my brain-radio started blaring out 'I'm Just a Cider-Drinker' from the 1970's UK gimmick band the Wurzels..."when the moon shines on the cowshed, and we're rollin' in the hay..." (parodied to the tune of Una Paloma Blanca).  Billy Idol and Crosby, Stills & Nash weren't far behind. Why, I don't know. Where's the volume control on this thing, anyway?

It's a beautiful journey, which I seem to appreciate more each time. The first time was much like my first Athens-to-Atlanta: an abortive effort but I learned valuable insights for the next time. This year was so much more enjoyable because I knew what to expect, which descents to step down in the grass, how much water to load up on, different combinations of food and what my body will like or reject in extreme conditions. Knowing what was ahead this time had a relaxing effect, as did Tomb's enthusiastic narration of upcoming terrain, still fresh in his mind from his previous July 4th 87-miler with Paula.


Miles: approx 94

Time: about 11 hours?

HR avg: 138

Max HR: 170 (on 'Surprise Hill')

Max Speed: 35 mph (where, I have no clue)

Calories burned (entire day): approx 10,000

Calories consumed (entire day): approx 4,000

Performance foods: Cheez-its (!), 5 x Gu/Power Gel/Hammer Gel, Checks Snack Mix, Watermelon Popsicle, Nature Valley bars, mixed dried fruit, and aforementioned fluids.



Difficult, eebee, but easier the more you do it

I commented on Blake's write-up and now I'll do the same for eebee's post.

With regard to stopping techniques, I learned the front T-stop (to the extent that I can do it) from Eddy this summer.  I have used the tight slalom turns to control speed for a while on the hills in Atlanta.

I have to say that once you get to Cedartown, after the toughest part of the trail, you really believe you're going to make it.  And then once you get the the state line you KNOW you're going to make it.  It's still a long skate from that point, but the worst is behind you.

I agree, I appreciate the journey more each time I take it.  You notice more, because you're more comfortable on the trail when you know what to expect.  I've done it three times now (almost--one time I stopped at 87 miles) and, while I don't know it as well as the back of my hand, I know it pretty well.

I guess I don't have too much to add, maybe I said what I needed to say because I saw (and responded to) Blake's post first.

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