We’re in a Mexican restaurant that’s playing twangy country music. New Year’s Eve. It was a long day, not much above freezing and heavy rain and we had no choice but to ride 60 miles to get here, Ozark, Alabama, because it was the closest place with a motel.
I look over the available beers- the usual, Bud, Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Coors Light. I’d like a real beer, but whatever, I’m just happy to be warm and dry.
“I’ll have a Coors Light,” I tell the waitress.
“No sir you won’t, not in Alabama on a Sunday night. Y’all aren’t from round here are ya?”
Earlier that day, out on the road between nowhere and nowhere. Brown cotton fields. We were stopped at a crossroad. Raining really hard, and at that point maybe 35 degrees. Just warm enough not to snow. So, about the worst.
Looking for a way out, Colleen searched on her phone to see if any hotels were around.
“Oh my god. Look at the only thing that came up.” She showed me the Google map with motel results.
Clayton County Jail.
Later, I thought I was entirely soaked through. Then we hit some freshly paved road with standing water. The splash from the puddles steadily and coldly seeped in to the back of my pants, which apparently were kind of dry. In a few minutes, I was really totally soaked.
But I wasn’t upset about it. For probably the first time ever, I actually believed that real tired cliche “a bad day on the bike is better than a good day at work.”
Maybe it’s because I feel like I actually put in a hard summer of work this year (I know that’s probably laughable for people with actual hard jobs) or maybe I actually learned something from our trip to New Zealand last year where I was grumpy half the time because things weren’t what I expected them to be. But this trip, I started riding without any expectations. I don’t so much care what we ride, or what the weather is, or where we stay. I always hope for sunshine and nice dirt and good diners, but if those things don’t happen, that’s fine too. I’m just happy to be out here.
Back in the Mexican restaurant with Hank Williams singing.
“Well remember we’re in the Bible Belt. No beer on Sunday. Now what can I get ya?”
“Water’s fine I guess.”
“And just to let you know, we’re more an American Mexican place. So lots of cheese, not much spice.”
“Got it. That’s fine.”
Before the very unpleasant day, we spent a few days with our friend Mark in Auburn. I was instructed by my brother-in-law (who goes to the University of Georgia) to ask why they yell “War Eagle!” at Auburn football games, when their mascot is a tiger.
“Oh man, weagle weagle war eagle. It’s just one of those dumb football things. Every place has one,” Mark said.
“Yeah, well,” he got a tiny bit defensive even though he’s made a point to tell us mutiple times that he cares about football so little that he doesn’t even know when Auburn won the national championship (2010, there are signs all over town, it’s just about impossible not to notice). “You know at Georgia they bark. They actually bark like dogs.”
“Uh huh.” Is a bark weirder than a weagle? I’m not sure.
We rode some of the trails outside of town at Chewacla State Park, which were really fun, twisty, rocky, all nice handbuilt stuff. Then Mark, sweet Alabama gentleman that he is, gave me a sleeping bag liner to use (my 30 degree quilt is a little chilly when it’s in the low 20s every night), and we hit the road again.
Just like in Georgia and South Carolina, it’s super easy to find beautiful, smooth dirt roads out in the country. Only downside is that the rate of dog chases is about two dumbass country dogs per mile.
After New Year’s in Ozark, we ride down to Fort Rucker to stay with Chad, a friend from bike racing in West Virginia. He sold his European car repair shop in Pittsburgh a couple years ago and got into the Army’s helicopter pilot training program, which sounds real intense.
Fort Rucker is where all Army helicopter pilots- as well pilots from other countries that buy helicopters from the US, learn to fly.
Chad gave us a little tour of the base, which is its own little world- complete with a golf course, schools, neighborhoods, lake, woods to hunt in, and free RV and boat storage. It’s all way nicer than the surrounding towns, and is the fifth largest employer in Alabama.
The place is huge, and multi-million dollar aircraft as far as you can see (and it costs a few thousand dollars an hour to fly each one).
“Yeah man, when people tell me thank you for your service, I tell them ‘thank you for paying your taxes,” Chad says.
We cross the border into Florida a few hours after leaving Fort Ruker. Neither of us are super sad to leave the state. Again, it could have partly been the cold weather, but like a lot of South Carolina, the place felt totally deserted.
Overall I guess we had a fine time, nobody threw rocks at us or anything (although I’m wondering if that was also partly because of the cold weather- it was too chilly to roll a window down.)
Riding along, we passed a Baptist Church every five miles, a dead corner store every 15, and a gas station every 50. In between, cotton, pine trees, boxy Caprice Classics on 22s, old trucks on 35s. And the gas stations mostly didn’t have roller dog machines.
I think the main thing I learned in Alabama is that now that I’ve been there, I probably don’t need to go back.
I’m just really glad we have some friends there (thanks again Mark, Chad, and Alison).
Auburn (Mark and Sauty)- Clayton (nature reserve)- Ozark motel- Fort Ruker (Chad and Alison)