The Alabama portion of the Pinhoti runs from near Sylacauga Alabama to the Georgia line. If you complete the entire thing you’ll pass through Cheaha on your way and enter various forest areas including: Hollins Wildlife Management Area, Talladega National Forest, Cheaha Wilderness, Cheaha State Park, Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area, and Dugger Mountain Wilderness. All apologies if I overlooked any major wilderness designation/areas.
But for today you’re just going to be on roads! Isn’t that exciting? No? Well. That’s what I thought at first but we actually really did have a good time. There are currently two road walk sections which I advise you to do by bicycling. If you have any experience riding a bike regularly (to work, around town, recreationally on the weekends) then you can easily wipe out section one and two in one day. But I have only ridden my bike to work once, then around on mountain biking trails years ago so I thought it best to split them into two sections. Good thing I did too, because 1) my butt hurt like hell (turns out I need a different seat which I’m hoping to get for Christmas and some of those butt padded bike shorts! Heck yea! Like I need more padding… sigh.) and 2) my gears got stuck so I ended up clanking loudly up hills as I tried to switch to a lower gear which I very often couldn’t. I paid ($$$) to get this fixed before section 2 by the way… but then low an behold 1 or 2 miles into section two the old bike started clanking and sticking in gear again…. With dogs chasing me. Doesn’t that sound like fun? No? Well, it was… I did take the bike back and they fixed it again for free this time and said it really shouldn’t do that again. One of the girls who worked there (ok the only girl I’ve seen working there) kept asking me over and over if I wasn’t sure I hadn’t wrecked it since the last time I was there… No. I assured her. I hadn’t even had the pleasure of riding it since they had “fixed” my bike. But other than the insinuation that I was lying from the one girl there- the guys at Homewood Cycle were really nice and I look forward to giving them lots more of my money and business in the future. On a side note- I can see how the girl might think such a thing- my bike is old and *really* banged up. But that’s from all the mountain biking I used to do (it’s a mountain bike, obviously, not a road bike, but I ride it on the road anyway 😀 ) and from all the *numerous* and unfathomable wrecks I had over the winter bikejoring with Whiskey. But I’ve been wreck free and bike riding free since their last fix. Anyway, onto my description.
If you were to go to the Pinhoti Trail Alliance website they will still list section 3 as a road walk as well, but it’s not. It is a wonderfully clearly marked well maintained trail now which I began backpacking in September and will blog about after I tell you all about this bike adventure I went on.
I decided I wanted to “do” the entire Pinhoti, although, I’m afraid it’s turned itself into section hiking/biking instead of one long thru hike. That’s okay. HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) and in my case that means at my own poor scoliosis pace lol.
A few weeks before our first planned bike trip this spring my back went out for the second time in 3 years. I decided to go to a specialist instead of a doc in a box like I did the first time (who diagnosed me with the vague “bad back” syndrome). At first I ended up with a really bad specialist who didn’t give a flip about whether I was able to keep doing the things I loved, but then I found a great second doctor recommended to me by a family member. Dr. Jones IV took me seriously and listened to my fears that I wouldn’t be able to backpack or hike or bike due to this reoccurring pain. He set me on a course of learning *how* to keep doing these things instead of laughing at me like the other doctor did (literally, he laughed. He told me some people would be happy to have my level of mobility and I should be thankful for what I could do instead of worrying about doing backpacking or hiking…. Really… a DOCTOR told me this). So Dr. Jones cared about me as a whole person, a person who sees a BIG chunk of herself defined as “outdoorsy” you know, where you have to walk, using your back, to get around and see things… and lets not talk about my 80lb’er of a dog pulling me everywhere. I was diagnosed with scoliosis and told that something looked fishy about the bottom disc. There’s paperwork somewhere that gives it a specific and medical name but basically I think it was a tear. So Dr. Jones told me what to do to get ready for the bike ride. The other doctor had just given me a deadpan look like “are you f’ing kidding me?” when I discussed my upcoming bike ride. So I did everything Dr. Jones told me to and here I am, two bike rides under my belt and over 80 miles of the Pinhoti now completed once you throw in the backpacking. Thank you Dr. Jones for making me feel that this diagnosis won’t stop me from doing anything. I just need to take a little extra care before and after to ensure a happy back. Let this be a lesson to you. If you are an outdoors person who has a doctor who belittles your hobbies that make you who you are and create a happy life, FIND ANOTHER DOCTOR. Being a backpacker, hiker,cyclist, etc is sports related and you need a doctor who will take you seriously.
The Pinhoti Section 1 is 13.1 miles and goes from Flagg Mountain trailhead to CR 41/AL 21 intersection. The directions can be found on the Pinhoti Alliance website (listed below in links) but it’s a pain in the butt to read. Also, it’s old, so know that they talk about “Slim and Slicks Bar-B-Que” which the locals said hadn’t been there for YEARS. There is however, a Dollar General. Park one car there and ferry yourself and the other person and bikes up to the top of Flagg Mountain and bike down. Then go back and pick up the other car when done. I highly suggest you get on googlemaps and do the street view and virtually drive these roads before getting out there on your bike or even car. This helped us tremendously. And while googlemaps won’t take you to the top of Flagg Mountain it will get you close enough to figure it out. One problem we ran into every time we set up our start and end vehicles was that there are different names for roads. Pinhoti Trail Alliance might call a road one thing, google maps calls it another, then the actual road sign is completely different! This is why actually looking at the signs and intersections on googlemaps view where it looks like your driving along the street is invaluable. Some of the forest service roads from section 2 are not on google maps. Anyone with average intelligence can figure it out, it’s just a pain for someone to have to go to so much trouble to do so.
Once you get to Flagg Mountain and park your car and take a little side tour for a nice view. Walk up towards the crest of the hill and look on the left side of the road as you’re walking for signs of the tower up there. I’m not sure you’re supposed to just help yourself to visiting it, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I’ve heard that Flagg Mountain is open only by appointment… but I don’t know this for certain. If we’d run into anyone I’d have asked for forgiveness 😀
The ride down the mountain from Flagg Mountain was nice. In fact the whole ride was pretty cool. You see a side of the world you never get to notice when flying by in a car. It reminded me of why I got my bike in the first place. We took a midway stop in a nice little old school town square with an old closed store and one store that is probably open during the week. The culture here, well, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. It was a very memorable trip. We also saw a lot of guys on motorcycles going through this intersection so it must a popular motorcycle ride (though they headed straight through instead of turning towards Flagg Mt. where we’d come from).
The funniest part of the trip was that at the end Brooke actually left her bike with a note on it saying “Free to a good home.” Because it wouldn’t shift gears either. Hers will probably make some kid happy who’s just riding around in their back yard or down the street. Mine, I think I’ll put the money in it to repair it. Though I am a little worried that her abandonment of the bike at the Dollar General might signify lonesome roads ahead for me. In fact, it did. My husband shadowed me in the car (well, he met me in the middle and banged on my gears to get them to work, and then met me at the end after the narrow dog escape chase) on the second trip, which I hope to blog about tomorrow. Cross your fingers folks. And if anyone is planning on doing this hike/bike ride, don’t hesitate to message me on fb on Whiskey’s page. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have, especially after how hard it was to find up to date information about the Pinhoti.
Links: that may or may not be helpful…sorry, but true.
http://pinhotitrailalliance.org (good luck navigating through this one… it really needs some MAJOR updating. Any web designers who want to volunteer their time?)