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bicycle touring Photography Uncategorized

SLOSS FURNACES Redux

I decided to go back and take advantage of a few new photoshop tools and re-edit a bunch of pictures from a few years ago. These are all from the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most amazing places that we visited while on our bicycle tour in 2008/2009. If you like you can go back and read about the site HERE, along with a decidedly less, perhaps, over-processed set of photos. The main reason I’m posting them is that I am thinking about having a few ‘Archival Prints’ done of some of these (which is kinda expensive) and I just want to have them in an easily accessible place so that I can continue to hem and haw about the prospect of doing so without having to open them all individually. In any case, if you are ever anywhere near this place you should make it your mission to visit. I wish that I could go again tomorrow!



















































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bicycle touring

How We Made it From Alabama to Louisiana

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The cold weather finally broke and it is beautiful and warm now in the deep south. Since we started riding again back on January 3rd it has been either freezing or raining, or a combination of both. The weather made things very stressful. This post is to acknowledge and thank the people who helped us along the way from Alabama to Louisiana.



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Courtland and Willamina hosted Brie and I while we were in Birmingham. On the first day in town, Willamina drove us all over the place so we could buy new tubes, and do the wash. She also was very knowledgeable about the history of Birmingham, and we had a wonderful time talking with her. The next day Courtland brought us to The Original Pancake House where we had an awesome breakfast, and then showed us around the city. We are very grateful for their kindness and generosity.

We are thankful that Hugh and Lona Plylar put us up in their extra house in Parrish, AL. It was freezing that night and they saved us from spending the night in the post office.

Also while in Parrish, we met a group of gentlemen at Smokin’ Joe’s who helped us a great deal, but specifically, it was Terry Barnes who helped us find our way through Alabama that day.

After finally making it to Mississippi, we stayed a night with Ryan Storment in Starkville. He is a student at MSU, and was a very interesting fellow, with a fresh perspective on life. He also escorted us on our way the next day, and gave us flawless direction to the Natchez Trace.



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Donna and Gary Holdiness were the consummate hosts. While we were there, the temperature fell into the single digits. They put up with us for longer than they should have because we were too fearful of riding in the cold. Donna put some wedding ideas in Brie’s head which has really stirred the pot, and created a lot of trouble for me, but I can forgive her for that. If you are ever touring down the Natchez Trace and a women driving a white Suburban accosts you, just go with it–you won’t be sorry you did!



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The last family we stayed with in Mississippi was Don and Becky Potts, and their daughter Cedar. As you can see in the picture, they have a mini horse. This is significant for two reasons: 1. They lived right in the middle of Jackson, MS, and, 2. Look at how cute she is! The horse’s name is Little River, and Brie fell in love with her at first sight. It was definitely cool seeing a mini horse walking around the yard of this neighborhood. Don took us to the Rainbow Co-op, which he helped found like 30 years ago, and now it’s a flourishing alternative grocery store. We ate dinner and then they proceeded to pour endless glasses of wine for us, before we moved on to Irish Cream and Caramel shots, talking and laughing all the while! We had a great time with them, and are thankful for their hospitality.

Two days later we rode over the Mississippi River and into Louisiana. Since then, the weather has turned for the better and we are looking at endless days of 70º weather, and sunshine. This weekend we are headed into New Orleans for some jazz, cajun food, and booze. We can’t help but think we wouldn’t be here in such good spirits and health with out all the people we met through Alabama and Mississippi.



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bicycle touring Uncategorized

Two Rooms: Part I

On our last day in Birmingham, AL, Gabrielle and I stayed at the Sloss Furnaces too long, and ended up having to find a place for the night. We stopped and had an early dinner at The Bottle Tree, a cool place on the east side of town that has a decent menu and books some pretty good bands [full disclosure: we stole one of their Los Campesinos! posters from the ladies room–sorry guys! but we really loved it.] So anyway, we were hanging out for a while and drinking a few beers, and before we realized it, it was dark outside. We had to find a room for the night, and a close one. We did a little online research and found the closest motel was a mere .4 miles away: The Star Motel. So we rolled down there, and paid a visit to the office. Many of the low budget motels in the US are run by Indian family’s, and so was this one. We did did business through the money slot, bending down to talk so our voices would carry through the tiny opening, the rich pungent smell of curry punching us in the face. The women said: You pay rent first, 42 dollars, an expression which perplexed Brie to no end. We paid and were passed the room key and remote.

Opening the door to the room was akin to being slapped in the face with a giant pack of Double Mint Chewing Gum. As we ventured in, and our eyes adjusted, it was confirmed that we had indeed booked our night of rest in a flophouse, but it started to pour outside, and we generally sleep in a stank-ass tent, so whatever. As I do every time we get a room, I immediately turned on the television (a bad habit), and there before my weary eyes: The Playboy Channel!



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Brie thought it was hilarious that I was initially reluctant to change the channel for fear we may lose it, but in the end SHE was the one who kept turning back to it. Pornography’ll take a hold of you! So we watched that and the Weather Channel, while we waited for a pizza that never showed up. Later, after we had gone to sleep, a couple came in the room next door, and either the walls were paper-thin, or they were loud, or both, and she was excited to watch TV Land, but I think he was more interested in the PBC, because something prompted him to declare that he would “kick yer head in like a soccer ball if you keep messing with my station!”

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Uncategorized

Two Rooms: Part II

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We got an early start out of the flophouse because we had to stop at Walgreen’s to pick up my maps. One of the things we discovered was that ain’t nobody out doing anything on Sunday in Birmingham. The place was a ghost town. Riding our way to the west-side with ease, we shortly found ourselves at the pharmacy, but we also found that just about every business around was closed. That’s why we ended up having breakfast at McDonald’s, which was regrettable at best. In any case, I ended up getting my map pics for free for some reason, which was a boon to my spirit, but it was still in the 30’s that day, and the will to get moving was hard to muster.

Pedaling for about six hours in the cold, we worked our way up Rte. 269 into Parrish, AL, all on a couple of bacon egg & cheese biscuits, snack crackers, and Pucker Powder.1024x768 wallpapers Needless to say, when we got there we were starving. It was almost dark, we were all out of food we didn’t have to cook (it was too cold to get all that going anyway), and the only restaurant in town was a Jack’s, a restaurant that reminds me of McDowell’s from Coming to America, in that the only real difference between it, and Micky D’s, is that their buns have no seeds. We both got 2 double cheeseburgers with fries, ate and then sat and had an argument about where we were going to sleep in between Brie running to the bathroom to put her clothes under the hand dryer. Not for the first time, it dawned on me that we could probably spend the night in the post office. The last time in was in extreme heat, in South Carolina. They left the AC on there, why wouldn’t they leave the heat on here? That was Plan A.

We sat, killing time in Jack’s, not wanting to nestle into the post office too early, when a large church group came in. We struck up conversations with a number of them, and then sat back and let the wheels turn, hoping to be invited to someone’s house. The minutes passed slowly, and by 7:00 the group had just about all up and left. Our hopes had been dashed. As Brie went to the bathroom to dry some more stuff, I began getting our things together, when a gentleman came to the table and asked what our plans were for the evening. I told him, and then he told me, that while it’s true the Post Office would be heated, he had a whole extra house he could put us up in for the night, that was also heated. His name was Hugh Plylar, the local Constable. We quickly and graciously accepted the offer. He, and his wife Lona, then brought us up to the house, got the heat going, chatted with us for a few minutes, and bid us a goodnight.

I showered and changed into a fresh set of clothes, and putzed around for a bit, then I decided to take a few pictures of the house. dsc_1000That’s when I discovered we were sharing our bedroom with a ghost. This blue orb was floating around the room, and only this room. Here it is hovering around Brie while she was writing in her journal. I took a few pics in every room in the house and it would only show up in the bedroom we were in, while the picture of the couple on the wall was in the frame. I have a number of these. Once I was struck with the reality of sharing the room with a ghost I got into the bed, and clutched onto Brie’s arm, who told the ghost we meant it no harm, and speculated that it was probably a friendly ghost. I was too scared to get up and brush my teeth. We remembered that Hugh had told us his mother had died in the house, and we wondered if it was her. . . it had to be.

We both woke up in the morning alive and well. I snapped a few pics and the orb was till in there, floating all over the place. We got packed up and going fairly early, and rode down around the bend to bid farewell to Hugh before continuing on. He gave us a copy of Peter Jenkins book A Walk Across America, which Brie is reading now. The whole landscape was covered in a thick layer of frost. I didn’t mention the ghost.



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Categories
abandoned bicycle touring

The Sloss Furnaces

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We couldn’t leave Birmingham, AL without visiting one of the main reasons for its growth and early years of prosperity: Sloss Furnaces. Located on the east side of the city, after producing much of the country’s steel for nearly 90 years, this monument to industrialism was nearly lost in 1971, when it was argued that maintaining the facility would not be feasable, and therefore it was recommended the furnaces be dismantled. Luckily, a dedicated group of citizens known as the Sloss Furnace Association fought for its preservation with the help of a number of other organizations, and 12 years later, on Labor day in 1983 the site was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark.



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Making iron requires three components that are found in abundance in the Birmingham area: iron ore, limestone, and coke, a derivative of coal. The process of making iron goes something like this: the aforementioned raw materials are brought to the furnace by rail car, where they are unloaded into a stock bin located close to the blast furnace (the structure in the first photo that looks like it has a platform on top). Next a skip car, attached to a conveyor hoist, is loaded from the stock bins and and the raw materials are transported up and into the mouth of the furnace. Upon entering the furnace, the raw materials are blasted with extremely hot air that is blasted from the bottom of the furnace. The hot air blasts burns the coke which produces a chemical reaction with the iron ore, and the limestone acts as a cleansing agent which removes impurities from the ore. This reaction creates molten iron which would collect at the bottom of the furnace, along with the impurities, a stony waste matter known as slag. The slag was lighter than the iron, and would sit on top of it in molten form, where it would then be drawn off the top at the bottom of the furnace through a higher notch, while the iron would be drawn out through a lower one.



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The remainder of the facility was dedicated to producing the hot air, which needed to reach 1400ºF in order to be effective. Among the essential components of this network is the Boilers, the Blower Building, and the Hot Blast Stoves. Water was boiled in the Boilers, which run alongside the Blower House, in order to create steam which was probably the most important element in the running of the furnaces. Steam produced the power to run the skip car hoist, the generator producing electricity for the furnace, and the steam engines/turboblowers which produced the air that ran to the Hot Blast Stoves. The Blower Building housed the enormous engines that produce the air. Eight engines standing at more than thirty feet each turned flywheels (giant cogs) at speeds of 70MPH. One of the more gruesome sounding deaths at Sloss (of which there were 20) was of a man that was eating lunch in the Blower House with a co-worker. He was leaning close to one of the flywheels, and the story goes his co-worker looked at him, looked away for a second, and looked back and he was gone, sucked into the flywheel. By the time they could stopped the engine, nothing remained of him. It’s stories like this that lead many to believe that Sloss is haunted.



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Pictured above is a couple of the Hot Blast Stoves which were responsible for heating the air before it was sent into the furnace. Constructed of steel shells, lined with a layer of heat-resistant bricks, and a lattice of bricks called checkers. The waste gases from the furnace were burned in order to heat the checkers, which in turn heated the air before it was carried to the furnace through a series of large pipes.



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One of the coolest things that I learned about Sloss Furnaces is that they turn it into a Haunted House for Halloween. This place is perfect for it. While the self-guided tour is a lot of fun, be sure and try to make time for the guided tour, which is led by a Sloss historian who clearly loves the place, and has many interesting stories to relate. I encourage everyone to visit if they ever happen to be in Alabama, especially around October 31st!



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bicycle touring Uncategorized

Almost to Birmingham, AL

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Thunderstorms: 1 — Brie & Phil: Doughnut. Ultimately, it was the rain that kept us at the University Inn for a second night. With reports of flash-flooding and dangerous wind/tornado warnings, we thought it best to let all of that pass before venturing any further westward. One of the benefits of this extended stay was the joy of cooking dinner in the tub for the first time (via a camp stove) despite Gabrielle’s protests. It was either that, cook in the rain, or order Papa John’s, and we’re supposed to be on a budget, so logic prevailed. In any case, after eating all that we couldn’t carry, we woke up the next morning to relatively blue skies, so we anxiously packed up and left Jacksonville, AL for the last time.

This day of riding beat the shit out of us, basically. We were reminded just how out of shape we are, and it wasn’t pleasant. The whole day consisted of riding into 20-30 mph headwinds, and many, many climbs. On the brighter side of things, we could have been stupid enough to leave the day before, and had the same ride, coupled with torrential down pours. And, the reports of flooding were not false. Here is one example of an athletic complex we passed early on in the day:

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As you can see, the one building there is flooded up to the roof. Alabama has been going through an extended drought, along with a large portion of the rest of the south, and this is what happens when you get days and days of rain, on hard, dry ground that is not ready to absorb that much precipitation. We rode past a number of properties that had flooded up to the doorsteps of many homes, and the funny thing is that the people outside would always smile and wave as we passed by. I have to think that I’d be pretty pissed at that moment, but maybe it’s a case of ‘you can get used to anything’.

We pushed through about 45 miles of Alabama on that day, and it truly was a fight the whole way against the weather, and against the dogs! So many dogs!! We are getting used to being barked at, but still it always feels like THIS will be the dog to bite me, and honestly you never know. If anyone out there plans to ride their bike through Alabama, be prepared for many, many dogs, especially pit bulls–try to guess which ones are friendly!

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At the end of the day, we were in the middle of nowhere, and out of water, with no foreseeable chance of getting anymore, so we stopped and pitched camp for the night atop this cluster of property for sale. There were the remnants of former homes in about 4 or 5 spots, a great deal of tires and beer cans. We chose the highest and driest spot, that still had its electricity meter, and a clothesline: it felt the homiest. The sun goes down about 5pm in Alabama this time of year, so shortly after that is bedtime. We’ve been getting to sleep about 7. It makes you feel like Ben Franklin or somebody.
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Uncategorized

On the Road Again

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Welp, once again Brie and I have decided to forego the comfort of a warm bed, and other modern technologies, like the “shower”, for the inviting tenderness of a cold slab of cement beneath a pavilion in places like Rockmart, Georgia. Having completely let ourselves go physically during our hiatus in dadgum Gainesville, GA, neither of us was at all ready to start riding again, but, we had set a date for January 3rd, and we stuck with it, despite the threat of heavy rain, dense fog, and no concrete lodging plans. That’s right, we bad! Our plan was to ride out via the Silver Comet Trail, that runs from Smyrna, just outside of Atlanta, all the way to the Alabama state line, about 60 miles, where it meets up with the Chief Ladiga Trail, which runs for an additional 33. Both trails were absolutely beautiful, and our first day riding through the fog really enhanced the scenery. The fog in northern Georgia is one thing I’ll definitely miss.
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Naturally, riding and sleeping in the rain had to make one of us sick, and it happened to be me. So, on our third day, we find ourselves spending the night at the University Inn in Jacksonville, AL. Meanwhile, it’s pouring outside, and we don’t feel too bad about breaking down and getting a room. After a day spent in bed sweating out a fever, and watching shitty t.v. (with the exception of the 2 hour Cosby marathon) I, for one, am already restless to go, and Brie has fallen into an A&E Intervention K-hole. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for more thunderstorms, but it’s going to be real warm, so we’re going to make a break for Birmingham.
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