Monday, December 31, 2007

Talladega Mountains, Alabama

I woke up shortly after the sun climbed over the mountain and started shining through the tent's walls. Mike was still sleeping so I went to check out the camp site. For me, there is nothing better than waking up in the morning, climbing out of a tent, taking a big breath of fresh mountain air, grabbing a Red Bull to fully wake up and going for a hike. This campground was really great. It was still very cold this morning but the sun was warm and the temperature was slowly climbing.

We were the only ones camping here

Frost on fallen leaves

This primitive camp site was littered with interesting ruins

Vegetation taking over

Morning dew sparkling in the sun

Mike makes some killer scrambled eggs

Breakfast is served: eggs, toast, orange juice and hot cocoa

Cooking and eating in the woods is the best

After a good breakfast we geared up and rode up to the registration office to pay for our camp site. The primitive camp site was $11 per day, kind of expensive for a camp site without a bathroom, but we enjoyed being alone so much that we decided to stay there tonight as well, even though we'd probably be cold again tonight without our electric blanket.

The bikes ready to go for a ride

Cheaha Road

The day was amazing, sunny and 62 degrees. We took of on Cheaha Road until we saw the sign for the Kentuk ATV trail sign. Then we took the forest road that went to the ATV trail, we didn’t ride the ATV trail, just rode the forest roads.

The forest roads were amazing, hard dirt with a bit of gravel with tons of twists and turns and many elevation changes. Actually, there were not a lot of straight sections here, nothing really tight either, just nice curvy roads. I'd have to say that so far these were the best dirt roads that I've ever been on. They were so much fun to ride. There were a few cars on these roads, mostly hunters and people that live around here.

Posing next to some river

The best twistie road of the day

The day consisted of 88% dirt - 15% pavement. We had no route, just the GPS. There were tons of dirt roads here, enough to ride for a week or more. And every road we tried was good but slightly different from the others.

Cheaha Road

It was getting late now, we looped around to Cheaha Road and headed back to the campsite. I stopped by Cheaha Lake for a few minutes, the colors were amazing as the sun was preparing to set.

Cheaha Lake

Back at the campground

We were leaving bright an early tomorrow morning so Mike was going to load the bikes on to the trailer tonight, so all we had to do tomorrow morning is tear down the tent and go

While Mike loaded up the bikes, I spent 30 minutes gathering fire wood. Tonight we were going to have a real camp fire.

The sun sets on our last night in Alabama

Campbells clam chowder for dinner

It was another beautiful night. It was still just us at the primitive campground. The sky was dark and the stars were many. Even though it was technically new years eve, to us it was just another night camping. At least it wasn’t as cold tonight as it was last night, the lows were going to be in the low 30’s tonight.

The camp fire was a good one tonight and kept us warm while we relaxed on the last day of the year

There was a light wind blowing tonight, but I wasn't cold at all. Tucked in to the two zero degree sleeping bags, I was very comfortable. Those extra few degrees make a huge difference.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ruffner Mountain - Birmingham, AL

We woke up to rain - again. The forecast still looked the same just as it did since it had started raining days ago. More rain coming up from the Gulf. But here in central Alabama the rain was finally ending this afternoon. And to think that Alabama and Georgia had been in a drought before this rain came.

Watching the weather channel, more rain

Since it was raining, we were not in any hurry to go any where. The Day’s Inn had a decent complimentary breakfast. After we ate we got the laptop out to figure out where we would be camping tonight and tomorrow night. We were going to ride in the Talladega National Forest. The forest roads were supposed to be awesome, but unfortunately the national forest campsites were not open right now. After searching the internet and not finding any other camp sites near Talladega, we almost gave up on riding there. But at the last minute we found a state park near by that had campsites with electricity and water. The Cheaha State Park is located on a mountain, so it was going to be pretty cold at night.

We took off and had to an early lunch at the Olive Garden in Birmingham. Soup, salad and breadstick. And bread pudding. I just discovered bread pudding last week. I’m surprised I’ve never come across it before.

Bread pudding

After lunch we went to check out Ruffner Mountain, which I read about on a website on Alabama's tourism. There was supposed to be some good hiking there and nice views of Birmingham.

The website did say that getting to Ruffner Mountain was kind of difficult, the directions were long and kind of complicated. And it did take us an hour before we found all the streets to take us there. It was totally worth it though, a really nice place to hike with beautiful scenery. And the rain had finally stopped. Yea!

We hiked the Quarry Trail, it went to the scenic overlook of the city

Quarry overlook

We almost stepped on this little guy

A nice trail through the woods

That's the quarry down below

Even with all this cloud cover and very little sunshine, low to mid 50's felt great

Mike with Birmingham in the distance

Ruffner Mountain visitor center

After we finished our hike we took off toward Cheaha State Park. It was already later then we thought. Our hike was a long one. We kind of didn’t pay attention to the directions that were posted on the website for the state park and we ended up taking the long way there which was the Cheaha Road, a twisty, very narrow, pea-graveled road, which entered the state park from the west. There was a lot of fog on this road and by now it was completely dark. We saw some deer near the road, other than that it was too dark to even read the road signs.

Heading into the Talladega Mountains at sunset

Fog hovering low above the grass

The twisty Cheaha Road going to the state park

Finally we arrived at the Cheha State Park. I read on their website that there was a camp site on top of the mountain and one lower down the mountain. I was hoping to camp at a lower elevation, thinking it would be a bit warmer.

We passed up the lower camp site and but we didn’t even know it, too dark and foggy to see anything. The upper camp site had a few RV’s camping there, but I went and checked out the bathroom (because I had to go) and for some reason there was no running water. This obviously was not supposed to be, since the facilities had regular toilets and sinks, there was just no water for some reason. It was also pretty cold up on that mountain and someone's dog kept barking non-stop.

We drove back down and finally found the lower camp site, but there was a gate that could only be opened with a entry code of some sort. They probably give you the code when you register to camp, but the registration office was closed already. We were getting pretty tired of driving. The primitive camp site was down the road from the lower full service camp site, so we went to check it out. The road through the camp site was really rough and at some point we couldn‘t continue on it with the truck and bike trailer. We got out of the truck to think.

It was going to be very cold overnight, in the upper 20's. We wanted to use our electric blanket to stay warm but we just didn‘t feel like driving back up the mountain to the upper full service camp site. That place was just not very inviting, with the RV's and the barking dog.

Here at the primitive camp site, we were alone. There was no one camping here tonight. It was just us, the trees and the stars, kind of nice. We decided that since it was late now, just for tonight, we’d just stay here.

This camp site was "primitive" just as the sign had said, meaning no water or bathrooms of any kind. To keep warm tonight we got all of our sleeping bags out. I had two zero degree sleeping bags for myself and Mike had a 35 degree and a zero degree bag. Like I’ve done last year in Big Bend, I’d place one sleeping bag inside the other for extra warmth. It works like a charm.

Four sleeping bags for two people, for a cold night camping up on a mountain

Keeping warm next to the fire

Another self-starting log being used as a camp fire, it was too dark and we couldn't find any other wood to burn nearby

Hot cocoa to stay warm

Chili and bread for dinner

The night was pretty cold, and I woke up a few times to zip the sleeping bag up further over my head. My head and my feet were cold most of the night. I even had to put my gloves on, and had kept on all my clothes, including my jacket and hat. I'm sure more expensive gear would work better, but I never intended on camping in such cold temps when I bought the stuff.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Barber Motorsports Museum - Birmingham, AL

We woke up to more rain. After watching the weather channel this morning and seeing rain again in the forecast for Southern Alabama and Florida as well, we decided to give up on the idea that we’d be riding our bikes today. It wasn’t going to happen. According to the weather people, the rain wasn’t going to stop until Sunday afternoon. We could ride on Monday, but since we had to start heading back to Chicago Tuesday morning, we’d have to ride somewhere north of here, so we didn’t have to drive more than 800 miles back home, we'd have only one day to get home.

That being the new plan, we packed up the truck and headed to Birmingham. We were planning on checking out the Barber Motorsports Museum on Monday before heading home, but since it was raining today we figured we’d go there instead and have Sunday and Monday to do other things.

Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with that plan right away, and by the time we did we needed to hustle. Had we stayed the night in Andalusia, AL north of the campsite, we would have saved ourselves probably two hours of driving. From Crestview, FL we had to take a bunch of back roads to get to the interstate, and that slowed us down a bit. Once we got on I-65 it was smooth sailing. The museum was closing at 5PM today and we estimated getting there at 2PM. Three hours is what the museum recommends to see everything. We were cutting it close.

Leaving the Econolodge in Crestview, FL

Murphy and his law was at it again though. Already running late and all the sudden the traffic comes to a halt on the interstate. We had about 20 more miles to go. Apparently there was a big enough accident, that all the traffic heading in to Birmingham needed to exit the interstate, drive to the next entrance to the intestate before getting on. That little detour cost us an hour. We arrived at the Barber Motorsports Museum at 3PM. Now we had only two hours to see everything.

Barber Motorsports Museum

Statues outside of the museum

Mike paying our admission , $10 per person

5 floors and 2 hours to see it all

The Barber race track, picture taken from the 5th floor of the museum

That’s a mannequin dressed up as a security guard up there watching

This place is truly amazing and a must see for any motorcycle enthusiast. Not only are there over a 1,000 different motorcycles on display here, the building’s design and the displays themselves are magnificent. I’ve heard great things about this museum and I’ve seen some pictures that people have taken but standing here, looking down on the multiple floors full of motorcycles, it almost takes your breath away.

Gary Eagan's ST4

Each display has a nice informative sign

Some long distance bikes that had been around the world

A lot of Ducatis here, old and new

Mike used to have one of these before it got stolen

There were also a lot of interesting cars here

It turned out that two hours was just enough to see everything at the Barber Motorsports Museum. We even had enough time to check out the gift shop. I was kind of disappointed though. They had only one ladies t-shirt, it came in two colors, gray or pink, every shirt was size large or larger. The men’s t-shirts, although they had many styles, were kind of disappointing also. The gift store had also a lot of cheap non-motorcycle stuff that was just out of place there.

See more bikes from Barber here.

We didn't have much of a lunch, so we were starved by now. We found a Mexican place not too far away in Leeds to eat dinner at. El Cazador was priced just right too, dinner for $6. Of course you get what you pay for. The food was OK - kind of plain, nothing special. The service was really good though.

Enchiladas and a taco at El Cazador in Leeds, AL

I've never had flan with whip cream before

There was a Day’s Inn next door to the restaurant. It looked like it was under construction, but we went to see how much. We wanted to camp tonight, but our camping stuff was still wet. The Day’s Inn was $65 a night and we were already here so we decided to stay.

This may just be the nicest Days Inn room I've ever been in

Flat screen TV, microwave and refrigerator, everything brand new

Drying out our camping gear in the parking lot

Drying out our sleping bags and pillows in the room

Our stuff was getting dry, this being the second day of laying everything out in a room with the heater on. After four hours the tent was dry, we brought everything inside at about 11PM since it was supposed to rain overnight again.