|The end of the Silver Comet Trail and the beginning of the Chief Ladiga Trail at the GA/AL state line.|
The closest trail head to New Orleans is Anniston, AL. (The trail ends right at the city's border with Weaver. There are plans to take the trail into Anniston to the Amtrak station, about seven miles south of the trailhead.)
In Georgia, milepost 0 is the Mavell Road Trailhead in Smyrna.
Michael Tilley, 38, a bicyclist from Baton Rouge with 15-years of in-the-saddle experience rode the two trails end to end and back in the spring of 2013. He took a leisurely approach taking four days to complete the ride averaging about 50 miles a day. He stayed in motels along the way. The first section of the trail opened 20 years ago but is well maintained and mostly smooth, Tilley said.
NOTE: CONSTRUCTION ON THE TRAIL IN COBB COUNTY GEORGIA, THE EASTERN-MOST GEORGIA COUNTY THROUGH WHICH THE TRAIL RUNS, WILL CLOSE SECTIONS OF THE PATH UNTIL SEPTEMBER OF 2014. THERE ARE NO DETOURS. BE SURE TO GET THE LATEST CONSTRUCTION INFO BEFORE MAKING THE DRIVE UP THERE TO DO THE RIDE. THERE APPEARS TO BE NO CONSTRUCTION PLANNED FOR THE CHIEF LADIGA TRAIL IN 2014.
Talking trail with Tilley reminded me of my excursions to the trail several years ago. Using several out-and-back day trips, I covered the trail from just south of Jacksonville, AL, east to the Powder Springs trailhead in Georgia, a total one-way distance of about 80 miles.
Chief Ladiga Trail rolls north from Weaver, AL through a mix of farms, apartment houses and woods. At Jacksonville the trail passes near the campus of Jacksonville State University, a major supporter of the trail. Downtown Jacksonville (food, lodging) is about a half a mile east of the trail.
This area was first settled before the Civil War but landmarks commemorating that history are hard to find.
As you ride north from Piedmont the vista changes as riders approach the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in the distance. The total gain in altitude from Anniston to the AL/GA line is only about 250 feet and any ups and downs on the trail are tamed by the trail's 2% grade.
After Piedmont, the trail passes through the Talladega National Forest as it climbs gently beside Little Terrapin Creek to meet Georgia's Silver Comet Trail at Esom Hill at the state line. The trail very gradually drops to Cedartown, GA. This is a remote 24 miles so be sure to stock up with water and snacks before leaving either Piedmont or Cedartown to ride this section.
The trail follows the railroad grade through the highlands to spare riders from extreme climbs and descents with one exception: Cedartown and Rockmart. Here the trail veers away from the railroad right of way forcing riders to negotiate steep climbs and hair raising downhills requiring excellent brakes. One treacherous descent ends with a hard turn.
The high point of the trail is in Georgia: EL 1092 near Dallas, GA.
East of this, the trail returns to the fairly flat railroad grade for the trip east to Smyrna, GA, the eastern terminus of the trail. Smyrna is part of the urban sprawl extending at least 25 miles north of Atlanta, and Tilley reports that the trail can get busy as it nears Smyrna and the Atlanta megaplex.
(Getting to the trailheads near Smyrna from most anywhere in Atlanta can be time consuming because of the crowded highways connecting Smyra with Atlanta. Allow plenty of time for this connection.)
Flatlanders from Louisiana will enjoy riding through the Brushy Mountain Tunnel, 800 feet and 68 degrees all summer long. Trailheads with restrooms, parking and picnic tables appear to be more numerous on the Georgia trail.
The Rockport downtown has seen better days, and the trail passes through an iffy neighborhood in Cedartown so be sure to have a bike lock and park your bike where you can see it when off looking for a place to stay or somewhere to eat.
Tilley said reserving rooms for motels along the route was easy. But cyclists looking for a place to camp may have a harder time finding a place to stay. In Alabama, call recreation centers in Piedmont and Jacksonville to see what camping is being offered to trail users. There are no developed campgrounds in the Talladega NF near the trail put camping is permitted in most of the forest. Chief Ladiga Trail cross the Pinhoti Trail but no bicycles are permitted on that trail.
In Georgia riders will find a full-service private campground, "The Rock" a few miles east of Rockmart. The site also offers a primitive camping area and also some inexpensive primitive cabins. The private campground is ground zero for many concerts and large gatherings. Be sure to check their schedule to avoid crowded conditions. That is, unless someone you want to hear is performing.
There is a primitive campground on the Silver Comet Trail that does not show on the map. Good luck in finding out about that.
You can learn more about hometown boy Sterling Holloway, a film star from back in the day, than you ever wanted to know at the restored railroad station, that also serves as the town's visitor center, on the trail at Cedartown. There is a full service bicycle shop at the Powder Springs, GA trailhead that rents bicycles. In Anniston try Wig's Wheels, 256-237-9447.
Because Amtrak operates stations with baggage service in both Anniston and Atlanta it is tempting to want to use the train for a shuttle. The train schedule is OK: leaves Anniston heading east to Atlanta late in the day. The train station in Atlanta is downtown and just too far away from the Smyrna trailhead to make the shuttle practical. But having to buy a box for your bike and taking the time to pack it, not counting the distance of the stations from the trailheads might encourage you to think twice about using Amtrak as a shuttle right now.
FOR MORE INORMATION:
www.therockrvpark.com camping near Rockport, GA
www.piedmontcity.org or Jack Holder at the Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont, phone 256-447-3363. You might be able to get a shuttle.