Part 2: Cycling Alabama

Greetings from beautiful Alabama! We crossed the border from Florida from the farthest western key, Perdido Key, into Gulf Shores, AL on day 12 of our journey.

Before crossing the border, we stopped at the Perdido Key visitor center where we saw their famous pirate ship fish tank. Apparently it is well known and there was even a documentary made about it.

We cycled along the road with the Gulf just on the other side of the high-rise hotels to our left, through the notorious party area called Flora-Bama, before crossing the border into Alabama the beautiful.

Reaching each major milestone is a fantastic feeling so we were thrilled to have traversed through our first state and into the second. Many high-fives were had.

We had plenty of time before we needed to set up camp for the night so we decided to check out a protected area which had these raised pathways. It turned out that one of these paths led directly to our intended campground for the evening, which was a great surprise because our map directed us to enter the park all the way from the other side. The park, Gulf Shores State Park, was incredible and absolutely one of the best we have ever visited. It boasts innumerable amenities like a swimming pool and tennis courts, lots of platforms to view wildlife, and there was even a dog agility area.

After we set up our tent and dropped our gear at the campground, we set back off on our bikes to explore the coast. This was Mi’s first time visiting the Gulf and the famous emerald-colored water.

There were so many interesting shells on the high-tide line that we could have spent hours just examining them.

We have seen all kinds of interesting new animals on this trip so far, like these sea birds that we later found out are called Sandwich Terns.

We walked along the beach for about a mile to the Gulf State Park Pier. Luckily for us, our campground fees covered the admission to the pier, which otherwise would have cost us $11 each just to enter.

Once we walked onto the pier, we immediately began to understand why the entrance fee was so high – there were dozens of people with fishing gear who were having great luck. In the short time that we were standing and observing, we saw dozens of fish tugging on the lines and being pulled from the water. The woman below was busy filleting her day’s catch of blue fish and king mackerel with expert skill. She told us she had worked at a fish counter and regularly slices up fresh fish for herself, her family, and her cats.

This couple had something very strong and exciting on their line. They raced up and down the pier as the fish swam, hoping to tire it out before reeling it in. The excitement came to an anticlimactic conclusion, though, when the line snapped. They were unsure of what they had caught but figured it could have been a shark.

Lots of the people fishing on the pier were clearly experts, as many of them had carts loaded with coolers and slots for all their rods.

After admiring the fishing for a while, we headed back down to the end of the pier to fill out a few postcards.

Then we walked back down the beach to where we had locked our bikes.

The water was so warm and the salt water felt so good on our tired legs that it was hard for us to leave. We were tempted to swim but there were lots of signs warning about the strong rip current that we felt tugging at our legs even in the shallows of the shoreline.

We use cable and U-locks to secure our bikes whenever we take off somewhere on foot. In some places people have told us that is unnecessary but we city-folk are unwilling to take any chances. The bikes we are taking on this trip were way more of an investment than the old mountain bikes we took last time.

Once we returned to the campground, we sent off some postcards.

Back at the primitive campground (non-RV and with just basic services), we unpacked our bags, hung our food on the hook in the tree, and enjoyed our left-overs from the meal we made the day before with our couch surfer, Cassie.

The campground was lined with shallow creeks and innumerable signs warning visitors not to feed or aggravate the alligators. Not to worry, though, as we didn’t see any that day.

After a long day of cycling and walking along the beach in the hot sun, we were more than ready to take a dip in the pool. It was a big pool with a small fountain in the middle and a splash pad to one side. The water was a warm 77 degrees and felt incredible.

After swimming, we headed back to our campsite to wind down for the evening. It was a nice site away from the rumbling of the RVs but not too far from the bathroom. We were so exhausted that we got to sleep quickly. What would have been a restful night was unfortunately interrupted at 2:30am by a scrabbling and shrieking just outside our tent. We heard claws scratching up the rough tree bark and when we shone our headlamps out of the tent to check out the commotion, we were greeted by two pairs of glowing eyes. There were raccoons tearing into and fighting over our food! We had hung it in the tree to keep it away from critters on the ground but we completely overlooked the fact that other critters easily climb trees. We were expecting to be bothered by gaters, not by raccoons.

We chased off the raccoons and brought our food into the bathroom for the rest of the night. We also immediately got on our phones and ordered a couple of Bear Vaults to be sent to the post office a few days down the road. We had learned about these handy bear and animal-proof containers from other cyclists on the road and were planning to get them anyway, this was just a little sooner than expected.

The next morning, we had to toss out the bag they had ripped open and the food they were after.

The next day we cycled from Gulf Shores to Spanish Fort (a 53-mile day) and spent part of the day on the delightful Eastern Shore Trail. We love these opportunities to be on designated multi-use paths.

The path offered great views of Mobile Bay and opportunities to rest in the shade.

Just outside of Daphne, we were joined by another cyclist, David, who cycles that same road for two hours every day. He was happy to show us an alternate route that was smoother and told us some history of the town along the way.

At the edge of town, we said thanks and goodbye to David, and then kept going. The town hosts a booming artist community so there were lots of public arts projects and sculptures. Our favorite was the evolution of the bicycle behind us.

Our map told us to go on the highway for a little while because when the map was made the aptly named Alligator Alley had been washed out by a storm. Luckily, David informed us that the road was good again so we got to skip the bad road and ride for a short while on this wooden causeway. Mi is always way more excited by the prospect of sighting some gators than Kelly. Alas, we will have to see you later, alligators.

This was our hilliest and quite possibly the hottest day yet. By the time we reached our campground at Meaher State Park, we were thoroughly wiped out. Unlike Gulf Shores, which was like a resort, this site offered less, but we were still glad to have a shower and a quiet place to sleep. They even had a better hook for our food.

At sunset, we sat out on the boat launch to enjoy the breeze over the water.

We dangled our feet over the edge for a while before we noticed some dark shapes in the distance, moving ever closer.

Gators!!! We saw two small heads poking out of the water, that you can’t really see in this picture, but by the look on Kelly’s face, they had gotten close enough. Mi was overjoyed.

The next day, day 14, we were still really tired from the long, hot days before so we were moving slowly.

Along the way, we have seen lots of these historical markers indicating the important events that took place there, many of which were before or during the Civil War. We cycled past the site of the Battle of Fort Blakeley, which was one of the last battles of the war.

Here, at the last major battle of the Civil War, nine black regiments of United States Colored Troops fought on the Blakeley Battlefield.

Leaving Spanish Fort was still very hilly and our steady progress took us into the heat of the afternoon. On the verge of heatstroke, we rolled up to a Subway in a gas station where we were offered wet paper towels and some time to sit in the air conditioning. After a couple hours of cooling off, we hit the road again.

Finally, we reached our day’s destination, the historic Montgomery Hill Baptist Church in Tensaw. This is listed on our map as a historical point of interest and it is the oldest surviving church in Baldwin County.

Inside, we were greeted by a group of musicians who were practicing for an event the following day, which was Sunday. We took the below picture from the slave gallery, which was the small upstairs room where slaves would worship.

After looking inside, we headed back out to explore the cemetery on the grounds. Some of the headstones were from the early 1800s and many shared the same surnames, indicating long family ties to the area.

After chatting for a while with the singers at the church, we learned that the next day’s event was the annual Homecoming, which takes place every year on the first Sunday in May and is a chance for people with ties to the church to return for a service and celebratory feast. Given the hard past few days, we had planned to take a rest day the next day anyway so when we were invited to the event, we decided to stick around.

One of the singers was kind enough to bring us a sample of the fare that would be served the next day, homemade potato salad with bread (we skipped on the ham).

The next day, after attending our first Southern Baptist church service, we helped to lay out the food that would be enjoyed by the approximately 60 guests. We helped Becky (the woman in the background) cut the cakes and pour the Milo’s famous sweet tea.

We enjoyed a huge meal of popular southern foods, many of which we had never tasted before.

One of the singers we had met the previous day was 2G, the woman on the right in the picture below. She was named after both of her grandmothers and early in her life she was nicknamed “2G” and the name just stuck. She was incredibly kind and generous, she was the one who brought us the potato salad.

We had so many great conversations with the congregants who were all very curious about our adventure. One family we met were Kim, her son Taylor, her brother David, and his wife Judy, who were all very sweet. They invited us back to their property to shower and do laundry. We also ended up camping on their property, which is 400 acres and their other brother owned an adjoining 700-acres. We were blown away by their “little cabin” which had cool stuff like the below backpack which was a movie prop from a movie about the Alamo.

We headed out bright and early the next morning toward Grove Hill. We have passed through lots of small towns along the way, some with post offices as small as the one below, where we sent out another post card.

61 miles later, we arrived in Grove Hill, feeling strong.

We generally like to replace our electrolytes with coconut water, which is packed with potassium, but this was a small town and the “grocery store” did not carry coconut water. We settled on an eight-pack of Powerade instead. Full of high fructose corn syrup, this is far from our ideal choice so we will be doing our best to avoid that in the future.

The next day, our Bear Vaults were scheduled to be delivered by general delivery to the post office in Linden. This was quite a ways away still and our maps took us on a circuitous route that would have been 90 more miles. We opted to go off route and take a more direct highway. After cycling 22 miles, the shoulder disappeared and the road got windy and busy. We decided that it would be safer to flag down a passing truck to help us get the remaining 20 miles to Linden. Luckily, the second truck that passed pulled over and offered to take us to where he was going, 9 miles up the road. We thanked him for stopping and threw our stuff into his pickup truck. A few minutes later he radioed his workmate and asked that he meet him in Linden instead so he could take us safely all the way to our destination.

20 minutes later, we were dropped off right outside the post office. The gentleman, Craig, was also kind enough to give us two reflective vests from his truck that he said he doesn’t use anyway. We were very pleased to have them as they make us that much more visible to passing cars.

We arrived in Linden much earlier than we had anticipated (8:30am) so we had a long time to wait before the package delivery, which we were told would be between 11 and 2. So we did some sight seeing around the tiny town and searched for Alabama stickers to put on our bikes.

We met all kinds of friendly people as we went into almost every establishment along main street. We met Charlotte of Charley Burl’s garden and gift shop. She did not have any Alabama stickers, but she did make us a great cup of coffee on the house (her special “frou-frou” recipe). She also generously gave us magnets and coffee for the road.

Finally, we headed back to the post office to see if our package had arrived. We were so happy to unwrap our Bear Vaults! We spent the next hour re-organizing our gear to put our food in the vaults and wrap our new reflective vests around them. We then headed back to the store one last time to finish re-supplying. Just as we were about to finally ride off toward Chickasaw State Park, our intended campground for the night, we ran into a gentleman we had met that morning at the drugstore coffee shop.

Mitchell was surprised to see us still in town but was glad to have run into us again. He invited us to abandon our plans of camping for the evening and stay in his hunting lodge up the road. The campground was 4.5 miles off route and his home was 3 miles off route, which made that decision that much easier to make.

We are so glad that we took him up on his offer because we had the whole lodge to ourselves.

We showered, did laundry, and cooled down in the air conditioning for a while before Mitchell came back from planting his tomatoes to take us up to his house to meet his wife, Melanie.

Their home was breathtakingly beautiful and much of the wood had been gathered on the property. Their living room had furniture that belonged to Mel’s grandparents and many of the items around their home had historical significance. We talked for about an hour in their kitchen before we were driven back to the lodge.

On the way, Mitchell was eager to show off his property, which is a whopping 4,000 acres.

One of the things he showed us was his array of catfish ponds, which have to be closely monitored for temperature and oxygen content. Each pond is home to about a hundred thousand fish. Early in his time as a catfish farmer, he had to manually test the water every 2 hours throughout the night to ensure that the heat didn’t get too high or that the oxygen didn’t get too low. Once, he lost every single fish due to low oxygen. Now, he has a highly technical system that regularly tests the water and automatically turns on oxygenating turbines when the levels get too low.

It turns out that we are not the first guests Mitchell has picked up over the years. He told us stories of various animals that he had brought home, including a tiny puppy he found on the side of the road (that would later father a litter of puppies we also met), chickens at the request of his granddaughter (who painted a Pollack-esque mural on the side of their coop), and this goose, who used to belong to a neighbor but got lonely after all of his compatriots had been killed. He also told us about a traveler who had come all the way from California with his pack of mules who he let stay in their barn.

That evening, we made a big dinner of what we found in the fridge (many of our hosts are so generous that they say we are free to use whatever we can find) and ate while watching cable TV for the first time on our trip. Kelly is a big fan of game shows and the resident deer did not complain.

After many miles, some of our gear is wearing out so we had to depart with a threadbare bungee cord. For everything that we lose, though, we gain something better. Check out the neat trucker hats Mitchell gave us from the Marengo County Soil and Water Conservation district!

Among the taxidermy animals adorning the walls is this fox squirrel, definitely the biggest squirrel either of us had ever seen.

The following day, day 18, we cycled from Linden to Gainesville, AL. We had been told by multiple people in Linden to be sure to check out the Jefferson Country Store, but sadly it was still closed that early. We were happy to see Adventure Cycling Association stickers in the window of the Underground Railroad portion of the route, which we are currently on.

56 miles later, we arrived in Gainesville, established in 1830.

Now thought to be the 3rd smallest town in Alabama (with fewer than 200 residents), it was originally the 3rd largest city, with a population of over 4,000.

The Battle of Shiloh was fought here. Before the Civil War, this was a bustling city, but afterwards the economy collapsed, much like many of the slave-dependent economies in the South.

Thus far, we have found many of our hosts on the website Couchsurfing.com. In Gainesville we stayed with our first hosts from another great site called Warmshowers.org which is specifically for cyclists. As cyclists and long distance hikers themselves, Dale and Amanda knew how hungry and in need of fuel we would be so they fixed us a snack of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil on toast which was followed up with grapes and then a huge delicious dinner of salmon grilled over a wood fire. They also gave us canned beans to replenish our supply (we have been enjoying bean and cheese burritos as our breakfasts on the road).

We were also glad to cuddle with their three kittens and dog, Buck, aka People.

Look at that beautiful meal! Thank you so much, Dale and Amanda, for your hospitality and wonderful conversation. Amanda was also kind enough to do our laundry.

We had a private room and bathroom and slept like babies.

The next morning, our hosts woke up before us (which is no small thing given that we are up before the sun) and fixed us coffee and a smoothie to power us as we set off on the road again.

After approximately 5,000 miles of use, Kelly’s thrift store-bought bicycle shorts were becoming ventilated so she parted with them the next morning. Good thing she brought a spare pair.

By 9am, we cycled 30 miles to Aliceville, which is the last town with a library before we enter Mississippi. We noticed that there is a museum in town and decided to take a look. We met the museum’s proprietor, John, was kind enough to show us around and tell us some of the interesting history. During WWII, there were about 500 German POW camps throughout the US, and Aliceville hosted the largest (and many would say most luxurious) one. The camp housed up to 4,000 people and provided everything from arts and recreation activities to some of the best food that the German soldiers had during the war. The goal of the camp’s strict adherence to the Geneva Convention was to provide an example to ensure that American POWs abroad were treated fairly.

We are writing this entry from the Aliceville Public Library, a historic landmark first opened in 1913 as the elementary and high school. Over the years, it was re-purposed for other uses but now is a beautiful library.

Today we will ride 10 more miles to Pickensville to the Aliceville Lake where there is a campground at the dam on the Tombigbee River. There, we will be able to watch ships and barges carrying everything from cotton to hay.

Tomorrow, we will ride the remaining 17 miles from Pickensville to the Mississippi border and enter the third state of our tour.

Until next time, be well!

4 responses to “Part 2: Cycling Alabama

  1. It sounds like such a great trip so far!! I’m impressed at the kindness people are heaping on you as you make progress. You make me proud to be Dad!! ❤️❤️

  2. Mitchel went to the coffee shop this morning and told the group about your progress. Good luck and stay safe.

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