A first for everything: Southern Hospitality
The plan: enjoy some Southern Hospitality, ride a bike around, and get my shoes dirty.
It may not be Greenbow, but I couldn't help but pronounce Alabama a little heavy on the BAM side. Thank you Tom Hanks for always shouting in my head. This was my first time traveling east of Colorado solely for my own selfish agendas. I need to get out more.
I have made last minute decisions before..
In fact, I generally try to take life as it comes, but traveling across the country in 4 days notice might be a new record for me (records are meant to be broken). I skipped away from work Friday afternoon to catch my 1:30 flight to Atlanta. From there a 2.5 drive made effortless by good company landed me in Birmingham. A city I had only read about in a 4th grade required reading up until recently.
Birmingham also just happens to be a stones throw some from some of the most beautiful trail systems and state parks that I have yet to encounter, which came as a surprise for me, given the current state of most of the vegetation (dead) and the nagging fact I was leaving real mountains at home. On this trips agenda was Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain (home of one of 3 Gold level races along the Xterra Pan-Am tour), with a guest appearance from Moss Rock Preserve.
First Stop: Oak Mountain
I checked my email Saturday morning to read that Cahaba cycles had a large Stache ready for me. My inquiry as to whether or not I should be bringing my beard trimmer was met with silence. In any case Jon was kind enough to help me load the hardtail Trek into the Back of the Countryman, also, you can fit a large 29er into a Mini Countryman with a little bit of patience and removal of the front wheel.
I had become aware that the course for the 2018 Oak Mountain Xterra had undergone some minor changes and I figured while I was down here it would be a fantastic opportunity to see what I will be getting myself into come May. If you want to find out more about what to expect on the Xterra Oak Mountain Bike Course you can check out my full course description, which is coming up next.
The ride went fantastically smooth, for about 20 minutes. Then the saddle sack (Is that a term?) on the rear decided to break loose and start slapping against the back of my legs. After dismounting and trying in vain to re-attach the ripped sack, I accepted defeat and stuffed the remains in my jersey pocket to return to Cahaba. I was calm as a cucumber during this 15 minute time break from riding, and didn't yell a single profanity when I discovered I had mistakenly stepped on my favorite riding glasses and broken one polarized lens, effectively pirating me. I don't know if it makes it better or worse that these glasses were a podium prize so I did not have to pay for them, which is not the case for my Rudy Projects.
15 miles into the 20 mile course lay out I had to swing back by the car for a quick phone recharge (woes of a battery that lasts 1 hr) to make sure I was still navigating appropriately. The last 5 miles went smoothly and I even got the chance to play around with the seat dropper post. A first for me. 20 miles of beautiful woods, stream crossings, ridge-lines and leaves later, I was finished, but not spent.
The low elevation combined with the superior air quality compared to home left me on the opposite spectrum of gasping for air. I was breathing so fine the 2 hr ride didn't even leave me winded. I look forward to racing here come May.
Red Mountain Park
Again, the handy work of trail apps and IG helped dictate where to go next. 15 miles worth of trails combined with the fallen leaves, moss covered-torn down buildings from a previous life.. I was sold before I even caught wind of the dog park and rope bridges (which by themselves would be selling points)
Little did I know, the history of this beautiful park made it even more special.
The location gets its name from the red earth that lies underneath the thick blanket of fallen leaves that currently masks the old mining settlement. The red dust comes from the Iron ore that the mountain was mined for. This iron is also the reason behind the quick development of Birmingham and where it got its nickname the "Magic City". Springing from a population of 11,000 to 140,000 in 40 years closing out the 19th century. The last of the mines closed in 1962, after which US steel sold the land at a heavily discounted price to Red Mountain Park, making the park possible.
Now the city of Birmingham flourishes for outdoor activists like myself and is one of the greenest cities in the country in terms of public park space per resident, according to redmountainpark.org. The city went from iron and mining, to park protection and outdoor activities, a shining example of taking steps forward. I want to be like Birmingham. My upbringing shaped me, but is no longer what defines me, but now we're diving too deep.
Red Mountain left my pristine Saucony Kinvaras looking like I'd hit the red clay track at home. Now covered in a not so subtle shade of red, and 6 miles of exploration later, it was time to see what else the city had to offer as time was running thin.
Moss Rock Preserve
The setting sun led the *perfectly clean* mini into a small, but full- dirt parking lot. A 100 yards from the trail head and a natural playground for kids of all ages exposed itself.
I don't consider myself much of a climber, (I've never actually been so technically no one would consider me a climber) however I was watching the athletes with the landing pad underneath as they freehand climbed some of the more advanced sections. Please pardon my climbing lingo, I plan on working on that. If anyone wants to 'show me the ropes', that would rock.
14 miles of trail and 347 acres to explore in the Moss Rock preserve, can be enjoyed as a trail runner just as much as a climber. This is one area I must come back to during the spring when the streams and waterfalls are running at a little higher volume and not just a trickle.
Even though most of the color was lost with the weather, and the area was feeling a little more Blair Witch, the lushness of this area was undeniable. A city blanketed in trees, and no shortage of places to get lost in them. The mid 60's weather in December is also not on my con list. I don't often visit a place I don't want to come back and see, but I also don't often have a scheduled date to return. I look forward to being back here sooner rather than later and participating in the Xterra Gold series event in Oak Mountain in May.
Big thanks to IG: @fitbrittofbham for being a gracious hostess during my visit, and to Cahaba Cycles for getting me on a steed in short notice.