Gadsden to Bessemer AL 85 miles with headwinds
I had hoped to be near Tuscaloosa tonight, so that I would only have 100 miles to go to Meridian tomorrow, but a late start, a good bit of wind, and riding through Birmingham - the biggest city on US 11- made that impossible. When I got through Birmingham, it was almost sunset and the next set of services after Bessemer was too far to ride in the remaining daylight. I stopped for the night at a Motel 6 ($34) just before US 11 disappears into I-20, only to reemerge about ten miles down the road. My routing tomorrow morning will be complicated by that disappearing act!
Ken Kifer and I rode from his house down to 11 and headed south. It was very peaceful. There was so little traffic that we could have ridden side by side which Ken said was legal in Alabama. Shortly after we started riding on 11, we saw another tourist coming up behind us! Now tourists are pretty rare even on the major bike routes, so Ken and I were really surprised to meet one in central Alabama! Since he was overtaking us anyway <grin>, we pulled over to let him catch us and then rode with him to Attalla where he and I had a second breakfast. This tourist is a 60 year old cancer survivor who's wife died from cancer. He is doing his own fund raising ride for The American Cancer Society and fulfilling a life long ambition to ride across the country. A neat, if somewhat talkative, fellow who had started his tour in upstate New York and is planning to end it in LA.
I was ready for some peace and quiet, and our new companion needed to deal with some effects of his cancer before leaving, so Ken and I left him in Attalla. I rode on down Hwy 11 and he followed, but did not catch up with me. Ken headed home by a hillier route. Ken is leaving on his own extended tour in a few days.
A rural section of US 11
I rode to Springville, a nice little town about 20 miles down 11 from Attalla, for lunch. The wind was a problem again today, coming and going as I rode and holding my average speed down to about 10 mph. I had lunch at a fancy café which had a lattice screen out front covering the gap between two buildings. I parked my bike in front of a window (natch!) next to that screen and, while I was eating at a table by that window, a wind gust of at least 30 mph blew the screen over. Fortunately it missed my bike and no pedestrians were on the sidewalk where it fell. I think the average wind speed was in the 10 to 15 mph range for most of my ride today. As it did yesterday, the wind seemed to get stronger in the early afternoon and then die down in the evening. It made riding challenging and my hands are sore because I had to spend so much time on the drops. This is quite a pretty part of Alabama, with gently rolling hills and some nice vistas of the tail end of the Appalachians, but it is hard to enjoy the scenery when fighting a head or cross wind. To be fair, I benefitted for the cooling effect of the wind: It was hot today and cranking up hills when the wind wasn't blowing was uncomfortable.
After Springdale, which was 40 miles into the trip, it was another 28 miles to Birmingham. Of course Birmingham actually starts quite a bit sooner and lasts for at least 20 miles. Trussville, which is a strip just north of Birmingham, was really bad riding. I actually go off of 11 for a few block in Trussville to avoid getting smunched when the road narrowed. I stopped at one end of Trussville for milkshake and at the other for coffee. I was feeling a bit groggy and I figured that wasn't a good thing when I was about to ride into Birmingham. Fortunately, compared to Trussville, most of the ride through Birmingham was quite pleasant. I did get lost - the signs for 11 were often missing - but I also met several groups of very nice folks who helped me get back on 11.
Coming out of Birmingham, 11 is The Bessemer Super Highway. This is, as its name suggests, not ideal bicycling. With a 40 to 50 mph speed limit, no shoulder and moderate traffic at 6 PM, it was OK urban riding, except for the yokel who threw a large cup full of ice at my front wheel. At least I assume that was what he was aiming for. The cup, which was thrown very violently, actually hit the curbing in front of me and did not cause me any problems. I'm not sure what would have happen if it had hit my wheel. Ken said earlier today that folks always throw in front of him. I guess they don't get enough practice! Hmm, five days of bicycling in the south and two of those days stuff is thrown at me. Not a good showing for the south.
Riding through Birmingham really was enjoyable. I stayed on 11 till I reached the down town area and then moved over one block to North 2nd Ave which is one way going south. I was planning to move over to North 3rd Ave, which is one way going north in town, when it became two way, but I missed my turn. As a result I rode through mostly residential areas for the next five miles or so. A little of it was 'bombed out' but most of it was quite nice. I felt quite comfortable
and folks along the way seemed friendly. It was definitely a better route than 11 through the western part of town, but I needed to be on 11 later to get over the various barriers, both natural and man made, that divide Birmingham. I also needed to be on 11 to find places to eat and places to stay.