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Buckwalters Ride Across Alabama
June 13-19, 1999

     Ahhhhhhhh, let the celebration begin. We just completed a 380 mile bike ride across Alabama from Aliceville to Heflin. I don=t know what to compare this feeling of exhilaration to. It=s been a week of testing my limits...just one more hill, one more mile, one more bottle of Gatorade, one more hour until it=s the women=s turn to use the showers. The weather kept us guessing all week. There were gorgeous sunny days, a chilly 55 degree night (had offers up to $20 for my grungy old sweatsuit), a foggy morning, and several downpours that left us drenched.

The southern culture was at its best. All along the way my palate was tantalized with fried catfish, fried okra, fried chicken, hush puppies, black-eyed peas and grits. People would smile and wave from their front porches and children would follow along in pursuit on their own bikes. The houses ranged from plantation homes with white pillars to run-down shanties (sometimes with a satellite dish!). Several times I was asked why I was riding a bicycle all that way...I never did come up with an answer that satisfied them. How can you explain the freedom that comes when you force your life to slow down, when your only task is merely riding to the next nights camp.

The first few days were spent establishing a type of Apecking order@. Bike accessories ranged from aerobars to handlebar tassles to wet socks hanging out to dry. The hardcore bikers were up at 4:30, hammering their high tech bikes to incredible speeds. Over the next few hours the rest of us fumbled around in the darkened gym/armory to find our clothes and pack away our sleeping gear. A few bikers were especially adept at blocking out all noise and managed to sleep peacefully until 7:00 or so. Once on the road the styles ranged from full speed ahead to those that stopped to take in every site (and I do mean EVERY - just ask Carol). Evening activities ranged between polishing every conceivable part of their bikes, to a rousing game of cards, to rowdy story telling at Bob & Karen=s RV. There were those that loved their bikes and those that loved biking. But over the week I watched the transformation of this group of 125 diverse bikers. By the 4th morning everyone seemed to be sleeping in a little later and pedaling a little slower. The Ashy guys@ were edging closer to the RV in the evenings. We were becoming family.

The first day of the tour took us from Aliceville to Eutaw, a journey of 54 miles. The day was overcast and cool. My roadkill count was one snake and five armadillos. Gorgeous flowers were blooming everywhere. A spaghetti dinner was prepared for us at the National Guard Armory, which was our home for the night. The biggest challenge of the evening was figuring out what time it was and if it was the women=s turn to use the showers or the bathroom (two separate rooms).

Day two took us 71 miles. Grocery stores were scarce in the morning so BAMA provided a lunch stop for us out in the middle of nowhere. I can=t remember ever tasting a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich...complete with vanilla wafers and a banana for desert. We spent the night at a high school in Centerville with the luxury of separate mens and womens showers. An inviting river rippled nearby, beckoning the bikers to come and relax. There was an abundance of fastfood nearby to choose from.

Tuesdays travel demanded everything within you to complete the 74 miles to Montevallo. The morning brought a heavy downpour just before we began arriving at the Mercedes factory. After touring the visitor=s museum and drying off a bit we were back on the road, looking for a lunch stop. We found a little southern café to refuel at. The SAG driver joined us for lunch and we agreed to switch roles - he would bike and I would drive the Mercedes SAG wagon. Must have been my guardian angel looking after me, because that afternoon was filled with knee-screaming hills. There=s no shame in walking and there were quite a few weary bikers that did just that. The rain came back, making it a very long day. Once at camp (a school building) things began to brighten considerably. I feasted on a two-scoop hot fudge sundae for dinner. A perfect stranger offered his underwear for me to clean the grit off my wheels and chain (they were a designated bike cleaning rag, he assured me). To top off the evening was a concert/dance to help soothe the weary beast within. I stuffed my wet shoes with newspaper and settled into my sleeping bag. We were packed like sardines in a small classroom and I awoke in the middle of the night with someone=s feet in my face.

By day four we=re all beginning to find our groove. After putting on dry shoes we ambled over to the Golden Arches for a breakfast of pancakes and orange juice. This would be a 60 mile ride to Childersburg. The sky let loose buckets of rain and passing trucks seemed to find great delight in covering us with road spray. But it didn=t matter that we were soaked. Somehow it was all just part of the adventure of bike touring. Stuff happens! Our home that night was a recreation center. Due to a broken hot water heater, cold water was our only option but it felt wonderfully clean and invigorating. There was a pool table and football. The afternoon was spent cleaning bikes, riding various other bikes (tandem and recumbent). We were inspired with a video that evening about a group of physically challenged people that biked around the world.

By now it=s Thursday and our bikes will take us 49 miles to Pell City. I spend the afternoon driving the SAG wagon. Some bikers find an injured puppy and arrange to have one of the SAG wagons take it to a vet. When asked by the receptionist what the dogs name was, the natural reply was ABama@. We rode by a gorgeous lake community and spent the night in a gym. Again we shared the shower facility, but tonight the water choice was very hot or scalding hot

Nonetheless it felt great to be clean after another day on the road. A variety of aches and pains are beginning to surface in the group. Found a wonderful turtle milkshake (chocolate and caramel) to die for!

Onward to Jacksonville, only 49 miles away. What could be better than starting out the day with a generous portion of grits, smothered with butter and pepper. The morning route took us toTalledega Speedway. Before arriving there, however, we first encountered a road crew that was putting down fresh asphalt on our route! Riders chose a variety of ways to solve this dilemma, some choosing a dirt detour, some a busy highway detour and some simply waiting until the paving was complete. We rode later in the day on the Chief Ladiga Trail (a rail-to-trail). The good news of the day was that Bama (the puppy) was not only recovering, but was there in camp looking for someone to adopt him! He soon found that someone and was officially dubbed the BAMA dog. Our last night on the road would be spent in a college dorm - private rooms with our own bathroom!

The last morning is always bitter-sweet for me. I=ve loved the challenge and camaraderie of this ride and don=t want to see it end...yet I=m tired and ready for clean socks and underwear. This last 45 mile section will take us to the finishline in Heflin. One last mountain to climb and then back to my other life. But the memories will live on.

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Erich swallowed up by kudzu.

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Another hill to climb.

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The party wagon!

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Taking a break to wring out our socks.

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John graciously offered to drive SAG.
(air conditioned Mercedes)

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I did it...380 miles on a great bike.

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