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“Moderate Difficulty”

20100915_248I cycled a lot during the summer of 2011. Every week, I cranked out at least fifty miles on the Silver Comet and added a spin class or two to my usual routine so I would be in peak condition for the up-and-coming trip: a cycling tour of Tuscany. I did not want to be the old man at the back of the pack when I encountered the hills of Tuscany and the young group of cyclists who had signed up for the trip. It was important to me that I hang with the tour. I had to be ready.

The travel brochure advertised “moderate-difficulty” cycling while enjoying breathtaking scenery, delicious food, unique accommodations, and unparalleled camaraderie. With all my preparations, I could surely handle cycling described as moderate difficulty.

After a long plane ride and a short train ride, I arrived in Florence at a small hotel where the tour was to begin. After a shower and a brief nap, the tour guide summoned all of us to the lobby for a meet-and-greet orientation meeting. We each introduced ourselves and talked a bit about our cycling experiences. I felt a little intimidated by the fact that eight of the sixteen riders were tri-athletes and all of them were young enough to be my kids! What had I gotten myself into?

The next morning we began our trek through Tuscany. Wow! The weather was perfect, the scenery was phenomenal, and the group really seemed to click. The gentle climb out of Florence was like riding a bike through an IMAX screen. I was engulfed in culture, history, and the incredible beauty of Italy.

A couple of miles into the trip, we stopped at a large park just south of Florence where the views of Florence were breathtaking. The “kids” were all very pleasant and I was having a blast.

The next sixteen miles were incredible. With our guides Ron and Jacques at each end of the pack, we snaked our way, single file, along a winding, hilly road to the little town of Greve where a picnic lunch was prepared. So far I was hanging with the tri-athletes and feeling pretty good about myself. Moderate difficulty seemed to be an appropriate description for the cycling so far.

After lunch, the guides circled us up to describe the next leg of the trip. “Those of you who want a more challenging ride, follow me.“ Jacques said. “The rest of you can continue down the highway with Ron.” So, I had a decision to make. Do I take the girly-man option and play it safe, or do I follow Jacques and the group of tri-athletes who had already lined up for the more challenging ride? After all, the trip was advertised as “moderate difficulty.” I can handle moderate.

“As you approach the curve down there be sure to gear down before making the turn,” Jacques warned. “It will make the hill a bit easier.” As we rounded the curve, there it was; a straight-run incline that would be right at home in San Francisco. We all quickly geared down further until there were no gears left. As we struggled up the steep incline, the single file of cyclists began to compress. I was inches away from the girl in front of me when she DECIDES TO STOP! Still clipped to my bike and nowhere to go, I gently keeled over and hit the pavement. The girl apologized profusely and began to push her bike up the hill. I was not about to travel halfway around the world to push my bike up the first hill we encountered, certainly not with six mean-and-leans looking on.

I checked myself for damage and began to assess the situation I was in. I’m halfway up a twenty percent grade, falling behind the younger generation, and unclear as to how I would get started back up the hill. Every time I tried to clip in and start up the hill I would fall. I could not power the pedals quickly enough to clip in and go up the hill without falling again.

After two or three tries, I discovered that if I aimed my bike across the narrow road, jumped on my bike, clipped in quickly, and pedaled hard once, I would have enough momentum to continue up the hill.

The whole gang was waiting for me at the top by the time I arrived, including the walker. I imagined several of them thinking, that old man will be slowing us down for the whole trip.

The rest of the day went much better. I made a point of staying near the front of the pack and ahead of the “stopper lady.” I was no longer the guy in the back that couldn’t keep up. I was right up front with the youngsters, with the wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth.

I was ready for the next challenge.

Near the end of the day as we rounded a curve on a small gravel road, there it was: Castelvecchi, a sprawling stone castle overlooking miles of Tuscan valley. This would be home for the two days.

I may write a different story about the fantasy-like visit to Castelvecchi, but this story is about my quest to hang with the “A” crowd and survive to ride again. After a great dinner and good nights’ sleep, Ron had us up early to prepare for a day-trip to Radda in Chianti, an enchanting little village atop and adjacent hill that we could actually see from the castle. We gathered around to hear Ron say, “the only time anyone has been injured on this tour was during the descent from the castle on the ride to Radda.” We had arrived from the back of the castle, so none of us quite understood the cause for Ron’s concern.

Out the front gate and STRAIGHT DOWN we went! At the first switchback brakes were squeaking and tires were skidding. The short stone wall along the edge would do little to keep us from catapulting to severe injury. The switchbacks seemed to get tighter and the hill even steeper as we whizzed our way to the bottom. We gathered at the driveway entrance and gazed back to the castle high on the hill. The excursion to Radda was enchanting but the return trip to the castle was the talk of the day. Would anyone make it back to the castle? Would the old guy fall and be the last one up the hill? How many riders would cop out and ride up in the van?

To be continued….





Trail Will Connect Tanyard to Atlanta Memorial Park

Several extensions to the PATH trails near the Bobby Jones Golf Course are in the works. PATH and the City of Atlanta will begin work this summer on the connection between the existing trail in Tanyard Park and Northside Drive at the entrance to Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. Later in the year, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will begin work on the PATH along the east side of Northside Drive between Bitsy Grant and Peachtree Creek. A year or so later, GDOT will replace the Northside Drive highway bridge over the creek with a bridge that will include the trail. The resulting trail will then connect the Tanyard Park Trail to the existing PATH between Sagamore Drive and Peachtree Battle Road.

Both GDOT projects are lumped in with a large water line replacement and the reconfiguration of Northside Drive. Installation of the trail is a minor component of the overall job. The schedule for trail construction has not been set.

The existing Tanyard Park Trail is a segment of the Atlanta BeltLine Trail. This segment of the BeltLine Trail does not parallel transit since this portion of the BeltLine Transit is proposed on an active rail corridor. The Tanyard Park Trail will be extended across Peachtree Street as the BeltLine Trail and eventually rejoin the transit line south of the Lindbergh MARTA station. The trail will not likely rejoin transit going west until it reaches Maddox Park.



A Secret No Longer

Diamorph-Mountain-n-SkyPATH recently completed the installation of a 520 foot-long bridge over the South River with funding from the Transportation Enhancement Program administered by the Georgia DOT and matching funds from Rockdale County. Many thanks to DOT board member Robert L. Brown, and Rockdale County Special Projects Manager Andrew Hammer for their support for this project.

The latest segments of the trail to open will benefit greatly from the new Lorraine Trailhead on State Route 138 at the South River and the parking area PATH built at the Monastery on State Route 212. Trail users traveling to the Monastery may want to take advantage of the new gift shop and snack bar only steps away from the end of the trail.

We foresee a bright future for the Heritage Area and the newly completed trail. Property values will increase along the trail; an influx of visitors from Atlanta and across the nation will have a positive economic impact on the region; entrepreneurism will bring bicycle rentals and eventually a lodge to the area. Visit it now and avoid the crowds. Remember when the Silver Comet was a quiet place to ride?

Last summer, local residents were puzzled by our push to expand the parking at two of the trailheads serving the trails in the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area (AMNHA) in southeast DeKalb County. On the first warm weekend this Spring, the expanded parking area at the Arabia Nature Center overflowed onto Klondike Road before noon (above center). The Heritage Area has been discovered by Atlantans looking for a new hiking or biking adventure.

Next month, PATH will open the last five miles of the Rockdale River Trail connecting South Rockdale Community Park to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Less than thirty minutes from I-285, you can park at one of many full service trailheads, and bike or hike through 6000 acres of rolling hills, woodlands, enormous rock outcroppings and secluded lakes.

In just twelve years, PATH and our partners, the Arabia Mountain Heritage Alliance, DeKalb and Rockdale Counties, the Georgia DOT, and Georgia State Parks have completed over thirty miles of trails that provide access to incredible vistas and natural wonders that rival anything this state has to offer.

We believe the trail system within the Heritage Area will become as popular as the Silver Comet over time. A trip to the Heritage Area offers more than a long, straight hike or bike ride. This trail is hilly and curvy and visits abandoned quarries, vast wetlands, and the 2200 acre Monastery of the Holy Spirit. You can hike through Panola Mountain State Park or fish at Alexander Lake. You can explore the area on one of many guided tours offered by the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Much of the trail follows the South River with seating areas overlooking noisy shoals along the river. This is much more than a biking destination!




Chastain Improvements Coming

PATH is helping the Chastain Park Conservancy and the City of Atlanta replace the narrow sidewalk on the west side of North Fulton Golf Course along Powers Ferry Road with a full size PATH. Work should begin sometime this summer and be completed by year end, except for the bridge over Nancy Creek. A stand-alone pedestrian bridge over the creek will be constructed for the trail as Phase II in 2016.

The Conservancy and the City of Atlanta did the heavy lifting to bring the project to fruition. Special thanks to District 7 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean for helping to secure financial assistance from the City. The Conservancy provided funding for the project that included a gift from the James M. Cox Foundation. PATH has performed in an advisory role during design and will provide construction management for the project.

Improvements include a trail similar to the one along Lake Forest Drive, new pedestrian crossings on Powers Ferry Road, and boardwalks leading to the bridge. The project is estimated to cost $1,970,000. Competitive bids will be solicited during the spring with construction anticipated during the summer.