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Gadsden

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Some of you may dimly recall something about the Gadsden Purchase back before the Civil War whereby the United States acquired a sizable chunk of what would be southern Arizona and part of New Mexico in a fire sale from the Mexicans. In any event, Gadsden, Al, is named after the very same Gadsden, who was the ambassador to Mexico at the time of the purchase. The good folks of Gadsden hoped that by naming their town after him, he would be instrumental in bringing in a railroad. (Gadsden and Old Hickory had come through the area so it wasn’t quite as farfetched as it may seem). The railroad thing didn’t happen, but the town’s site along the Coosa river made it accessible to riverboat traffic so I guess it turned out okay.

The previously mentioned “hippie nachos” at the Blackstone Pub and Eatery looked exactly like the sort of hot mess you’d imagine so I decided not to take a picture and memorialize what it was we were about to unapologetically scarf; however, I will say their glorious excess of black beans, mushrooms, jalapenos, olives, etc., was made all the more awesome by the addition of bacon as suggested by our bartender CJ. And of course there was beer (beer geek alert: Gadsden is home to the Back Forty brewery).
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The town teeters on the skids with a fair number of shuttered buildings, and though it looks like its better days were in the past, there is a surprising arts district in the old downtown anchored by the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, which was hosting an Andy Warhol exhibit.
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But we were content to simply wander about and ended up in a nice wine bar tucked behind an olive oil and vinegar specialty store, which was fortunate because much of the wine available in town was made from grapes grown in Alabama and we had already tasted enough sweat for the day.

This being Alabama and all, there is the expected virginal monument to Southern purity erected early in the Jim Crow era.
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But the downtown movie theater still looks good as does the bridge across the Coosa, which we were to bike across early the next morning on our way to the Chief Ladiga trail. Unbeknownst to us, we would first have to traverse Meth Valley.
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From Birmingham to Gadsden – the Day of Sweating Profusely

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With the heat-humidity index stuck on miserable, Rachael and I set out at dawn through the bleak empty streets of eastern Birmingham toward the old highway up to Gadsden. After making our way past the flotsam of industrial decay that defines an urban architecture of decline, we glided through neighborhoods segregated by income and stratified by class as the sun rose up to assert its centrality to our day.
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Though we were heartened to see other bikers on Highway 11, the picture at the top of this post captures Alabama’s general disregard for cyclists – a potentially decent shoulder is denied to bikers in favor of rumble strips to rouse drifting drivers. Happily for us, traffic was light while we were on the highway, but the scenery wasn’t much and we were mostly just grinding it out into a moderate headwind. It was fun to be out biking, and Rachael got some good practice drafting behind me, but mostly we were trying to make time and stay ahead of the sun. That said, there were occasional reminders of lives lived in a different key:
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But what most sticks out about that ride was the unbelievable amount of sweat that covered our bodies and poured off of us. When we stopped just to check the route, I had to hold my phone away from my head to avoid the cascade of perspiration. Even in a mild-to-moderate wind, our arms looked as if we had just stepped out of the shower. We were a couple of two-wheeled condensation vectors creating tunnels of cooler drier air as we soldiered on.

Our final approach to Gadsden was enlivened by a jaunt off the main route along less-traveled roads that led to a back way into town. After observing the first task upon completing a day’s ride, we were rewarded with a rejuvenating soak in an outdoor pool with a waterfall.
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We felt quite relieved to be off the road by a little past noon, which gave us plenty of time to explore Gadsden – the “big” town on our trip. A little research had turned up a pub that promised outstanding “hippie nachos,” which, if you’re going to try them, there can be no better time than after surviving a “sweaty Betty” bike ride in the hot Alabama sun.

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About Me

Born in Baltimore and raised in Cincinnati, I have lived on both coasts and driven back and forth across the country a number of times. I now have the "midlife opportunity" to do so on two wheels.