In October of 2017 I took a trip down to Anniston, Alabama, to ride on the Chief Ladiga Trail with my dog, Frankie. This would be our first long expedition (52 miles round trip), and my first time doing solo camping.
Put it this way: It was a blast, and I’m going to do it again.
The Chief Ladiga Trail runs about 33 miles from the trailhead at Michael Tucker Park to the Georgia state line, where it becomes the Silver Comet Trail. Both trails run along former railway lines, and have long stretches of tree-lined pavement; mostly smooth, except for a few portions that have some bumps and cracks from tree roots underneath.
Things I Learned
Be very careful going over bumps – the trailer has a tendency to hop up, which is unnerving to a senior dog. Possible solution: lower the PSI in the trailer tires; employ cushier bed in trailer.
- Stop often and enjoy the view. In Weaver, AL, a small town along the way, there was a trick-or-treat function going on downtown, so I stopped and enjoyed mingling with the crowd.
- Don’t drive down there and start your ride the same day. There is a campground at the Michael Tucker Park; next time, I plan on driving down a day earlier and leaving in the morning after camping out.
- 90 pounds trailing behind you means you MUST leave more room to come to a full stop. 10 MPH feels like a fast zoom!
- Always take just one more beer with you.
Tent (REI Half Dome 2+)
- Sleeping bag (older mummy sack – a little heavy, but doable and warm on the unexpected 40 degree night)
- Sleeping pad (older version of the REI Kingdom sleeping pad)
- Inflatable pillow (I cannot stress enough how much more comfortable I was by having this with me!)
- Food: dehydrated food, snacks, tea, 1 beer
- Dog food and treats for Frankie
- Collapsible bowl for Frankie
- Lightweight kettle
- Lightweight mug
- Lightweight spork
- MSR Pocket Rocket 2 camp stove
- Stove fuel
- Lighter (a moment of panic was sparked when I thought I had left it at the trailhead)
- Small lantern
- Clothing for riding and for hanging out in camp
- Small toiletry kit including quick dry washcloth
- Bike lights, lock, helmet, gloves
- Backpack for clothes
- Hydration pack with 3 liter water capacity
- Book (Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – a phenomenal read)
- Cycle computer
The original plan was to ride all the way to the state line, then turn around and ride back to mile marker 7, where the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground is situated. After a later start than anticipated, and more stops along the way than planned, I decided to pull in to the campground on the first pass. Georgia would have to wait til next time.
I cannot say enough fantastic things about the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground. They are literally right off the trail; you roll in and set up your tent and then the campground caretaker will eventually come and collect your fee. The campground is nestled in the Talladega National Forest, and also intersects with the Pinhoti Trail. The sites were clean, the caretaker friendly, and I had absolutely no complaints. [Note: as of 2022, the Chief Ladiga Trail campground is closed.]
I was there on Halloween, and my campground cohorts were a couple from somewhere in New York State who introduced themselves and then promptly went to bed. Frankie and I collected wood and started a nice fire, watching as the mist rose over the field and listening to the winding creek next to the campsite. There is no cell phone reception in the campground; at least, not with my provider. It was a welcome respite from the electronic chatter we experience in our daily lives.
After waking up on November 1st, a quick “rabbit rabbit” whispered at the beginning of the morning, and it was time for tea and a Frankie stroll before breaking down camp and riding back to the trailhead in Anniston. We stopped briefly in Jacksonville, AL, to check out the visitor’s center and made it back to the car just before the rain came.
The only somewhat negative experience was the trail routing around Jacksonville State University – it was a little bit confusing, and with a trailer behind me sometimes difficult to steer around construction and down curb cuts of the trail crossing the college roads. On the way back, I just stayed in the road.
My hope is that I can ride on the Silver Comet from the trailhead near Smyrna, GA, out to the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground and then back again the next day. That’ll be about 137 miles in 2 days – and of course, Frankie will come with me. And of course, you all are welcome to come with me!