The Gauntlet has been Thrown

On October 8, 2009 · Comments Off on The Gauntlet has been Thrown

Several weeks ago I toyed with an idea for a recurring topic. I would close my eyes, wiggle the cursor around on the screen, and drop it randomly onto a Google Street View map. I would oblige myself to write an article about the resulting spot regardless of where it fell and with no second chances. There is such vast emptiness between the cities and towns. I realized I would likely have to draw upon every research source and skill I could muster, with more than a little apprehension. It’s geo-blogging without a safety net and I shuddered when this image popped onto my screen.

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Really it’s not so bad, I considered, as I rotated the picture fully around in a circle and gained a better appreciation of my predicament. I saw signs of civilization, a house in the distance, another one nearby, electrical transmission lines atop poles, wire fences, even a fire hydrant. It’s rural but far from desolate, and the location sounded pleasant enough: the corner of Babbling Brook and the Wagon Road. May God help me when I select a chunk of Australian Outback, but I could work with this one.

I switched immediately to satellite mode and drew upward a few clicks to discern a few more clues.

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The landscape was actually rather handsome with fertile fields separated by lines of leafy trees that grew to maturity along long-established property boundaries. A couple more clicks and then a switch into map mode revealed that, contrary to my initial guesses, the spot sat barely a mile outside of a fairly sizable town, Piedmont, Alabama, USA.

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But does that make a story?

In the United States, "Piedmont" refers to a geographic region leading up to the Appalachian mountain range along its Eastern coast. It’s construed as a strip of territory inland from the coastal plain, situated between the fall line and the mountains themselves. The name derives from the combination of two French words, "pied" (foot) and "mont" (hill or mountain), so it’s nothing more than a fancy name for foothill. Somehow everything always sounds better in French, though.

Many people have a passing familiarity with the Appalachians and often consider it somewhat synonymously with the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The famous AT runs 2,178 miles across 14 states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Maybe those folks would be a little surprised to learn that the Appalachian Mountains actually extend further south and west into central Alabama. Indeed, Alabama has mountains. My randomly selected spot falls within the foothills of those Alabama Appalachians at the doorstep of Talladega National Forest.

Here I stand virtually in the foothills of rural Alabama just outside of a modestly-sized town. I wish I could always report happy thoughts but sometimes life brings misfortune and that’s what I uncovered. The Wagon Road is a short path, stretching barely three quarters of a mile (roughly 1.3 kilometers). Residents named one stretch along this road, an incline among those rolling Piedmont foothills, "Thrill Hill." I don’t know its exact location but as I walk along Street View vicariously only one place — less than a half mile from our starting point — seems to match the likely criteria.

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Two teenagers died in December when they jumped Thrill Hill. Their automobile went airborne for about fifty feet, lost control and struck a power pole. It is a tragedy when events go awry in such a horrific manner. I know many of us, myself included, performed similar Dukes of Hazzard stunts when we were young. It could have been anyone. Thrill Hill was back in the news again just a couple of weeks ago (September 23, 2009) when a local television station reported that stop signs have been added and speed bumps are on the way. Let’s hope it never reoccurs.

A little further up the road and in the vicinity of its northern terminus the blacktop intersects the Chief Ladiga Trail. Look closely in the background and you might be able to catch a glimpse of the Appalachian peaks of the Talladega National Forest in the distance.

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Chief Ladiga is a rails-to-trails success story, a paved recreational walking and biking trail along an abandoned railroad line.

In northeast Alabama, the nearly 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail is a regional playground that passes through welcoming towns and pastoral landscapes. Following a former CSX railroad corridor, the rail-trail is named for the Creek Indian leader who signed the 1832 Cusseta Treaty, surrendering the tribe’s remaining land in the area… From Piedmont the scenery begins to change. Duggar Mountain and the southern Appalachians provide a backdrop to fields that transition to forests. Terrapin Creek skirts the trail, and soon a bridge carries you over it. Here, the trail travels through protected wilderness within Talladega National Forest…

It gets even better. Chief Ladiga extends to the Silver Comet Trail at the Georgia border and continues all the way to Atlanta. When first joined in 2008 the two trails extended nearly a hundred miles and were considered the longest paved pedestrian trail in the United States.

It’s not so middle-of-nowhere after all.

On October 8, 2009 · Comments Off on The Gauntlet has been Thrown

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