9/13/22 Grace 300 Birmingham to Orange Beach

There will be posts coming soon about the amazing time spent with friends at the beach during the Tour de Beach, but this post is the story of the 2022 Grace 300 Birmingham to Orange Beach.

In 2015, Grace Ragland did the first MS-450 Ride from Birmingham to the Beach as a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I joined her on the second year in 2016 and have made the journey every year since. The ride was initially supported by the NMSS, and later by Alabama Power. In 2021 the Grace Ragland 300 was done in April and supported by the Tanner Foundation. They will likely be doing it again in 2023. However, this year there was no one to support the ride, as Alabama Power is participating in a Natchez Trace MS ride in October this year. This is why I decided to ride down solo and preserve an unbroken annual lineage that has survived since Grace last did the ride. I wanted to invite others along, and thought I had a taker or two along the way, but there are a lot of logistics required to support riders on this trip. I had confidence that the weeks of planning I had put in, and the grace of friends, trail magic, would be enough.

Praise God for giving me the resources to complete this journey! Special thanks to: Thomas Waters, my State Farm Insurance provider, great friend, supporter of local cycling events, and provider of an amazing place to say on my trip. Shea Corbitt, who had provided massage therapy services and sag support on this ride by my side since 2016, one of my best friends, who was excited when I asked her to support me on this trip, and to have another amazing vacation together. Marty Smith of the Birmingham Bicycle Club for organizing an elite team of Birmingham cyclists and close friends, accommodations, AND A BOAT to participate in the Tour de Beach along with me. Lambert Insurance Agency for sponsoring our Tour de Beach Team. Chainbuster Racing for allowing me to be a part of an amazing team that keeps me ready for the next adventure. Eddie O’Dea, who not only inspires me with his amazing adventures, but has me dialed in perfectly on my bike. Bob’s Bikes for keeping my wheels rolling. I picked up one today and am dropping one off tomorrow.  

Initially this was going to be an attempt to ride to the beach in 24 hours. Aside from poor water stop planning, I have decided that it is totally doable, but not recommending that anyone else ever attempt this self-supported solo route I did without being very experienced at bike packing and carrying at least 200oz water, I got neither. With support, this can absolutely be done in less than 24 hours, but only with a gravel bike. There are about 30 miles of gravel on this route, but the stuff at mile 150 is gonna make you walk, even if it only rained once in the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 13. Birmingham to Repton, 170mi.

I got rolling from the house at 7:30am and into the North entrance to Oak Mountain. As I came into the gate, someone was pulling up to go for a ride and waved at me. I looked back and it was my friend Varina, I hadn’t made it 3 miles when I first ran into a friend that I had to say hi to. It was a good omen; she was excited to find out that she was the sole person seeing me off on this trip. I kept rolling through the park, and straight out the North gate into Pelham. Took Hwy 52, CR 17 through Helena, Montevallo. I never realized how big Montevallo was, seems like I’d see a sign every 10 miles. It was real pretty rolling through there; I took a couple of horse pics. On through Maplesville, got some Edmund Pettus Bridge selfies in Selma, before rolling through Pine Apple, hmm. At mile 140 I had marked a church to get water, but it had been cut off for a while. I still had about 60oz of water. At Mile 155 I rolled into Burnt Corn around 8pm. I rolled past several buildings with no signs of life or water before getting to the famous Burnt Corn Post Office. I took the annual selfie. I expected to find water at the post office, but there are no spigots. I still had about 40oz.

I looked at my map and the next stop was Mile 170. After a good 3-mile sandy gravel road with 3 peanut butter creek crossings, there was supposed to be a water stop at a store in Repton. Google maps showed them open until 11pm. I should have called. I got pretty muddy on that last section, my front tire actually dipped into something close to quicksand all the way down to the axle at one point. I was worn out. I pulled up to that store at about 9:50pm, and there were chains around the inside door handles. Had my planned water stops, or any sign of water along the way presented themselves, I would have still been in for the 24-hour run. Actually, I was running an almost 15mph pace, meaning I might have been able to do it in around 22 hours. Alas, I had 1 24 oz bottle left, and the next water stop, or sign of life for that matter, was the Waffle House at Wind Creek in Atmore, 30 miles down the road, a lot of which is gravel.

I decided to bed down and save that water bottle for the 30-mile ride to breakfast the next morning. I had no problem finding a secluded place to sleep in this barren wasteland. The gravel road I had been on continued past the store in Repton. I rode about a mile before finding a sandy old logging road off to the side. There were old stacks of logs on the side of the road that had not been picked up and had deteriorated into a really soft, sandy spot to lay a bivy on. Lesson learned on the cheap bivy, which was basically an emergency blanket sleeping bag. It kept me warm, and it was cool out, but I slept in a sweat steam trap. I slept good though. It wasn’t until the next morning about 5 miles down the road that I thought how much rattlesnakes would like the place I bedded down. There had not been any lights for miles, aside from mine, and I could see billions of galaxies of stars, until I had to close the steam pod to keep the skeeters out. I slept like a baby.

Wednesday, September 14. Repton to Orange Beach, 113mi.

I woke up around 5am and checked the time. The store that was a mile away that was supposed to be open until 11am, it was supposed to open at 7am. Did I want to sleep until then to see if it might be open, or get moving 30 miles with 1 24oz bottle of water? I was rolling by 6am, and imagine my luck, 10 miles down the road, after a beautiful country gravel sunrise, I found Enon Baptist Church with this beautiful yellow water hose on the side of it calling my name. I was able to refill my 170oz supply of liquid nutrition and hydration and wash 8lb of mud off the bike and 2 off of me.

I got to Waffle House at Wind Creek Casino at mile 200 at about 8:30am. I had a great waitress who brought me a mushroom, onion and tomato omelet and a cheesy chicken hash brown scramble. I took my time chugging sweet black coffee and scarfing down food while charging batteries, enjoying ac and the cleanest waffle house. For the past 4 or 5 years the riders have eaten here for breakfast on the 3rd day down. I was happy to be on my 2nd day at this point. I told the waitress she looked familiar, and she remembered that we rolled down as a group each year. I shared my story with her about keeping the annual legacy going and she is looking forward to seeing more riders next year.

Around mile 237 I crossed from Florida back into Alabama on Barrineau Park Rd, and the first house on the right is the McDaniel’s. Mr. McDaniel has built cool people-sculptures out of pipes and various metal fittings. This has been a stop on the ride to the beach for many years, ever since it was discovered, maybe in 2015. I got some good pics of all of the sculptures and enjoyed an energetic sense of nostalgia. I stopped at a store stop in Elsanor at mile 255 and refilled water. I rolled on South through Elberta, Foley and then finally rolled into Thomas Waters’ place around 5pm.

Thomas was sharing his tiny home with me and Shea, who had gotten down shortly before me. It is at a swank RV community on the bay in Orange beach. As I rolled up to the tiny house, Shea came out and greeted me with Black Jack Pickle Backs. While I may have kept the annual lineage of the Grace Ragland Ride to the Beach alive this year, you can thank Shea for keeping the BJPB annual lineage intact as well.

That night we had dinner at Doc’s Seafood Shack and Oyster Bar, and enjoyed the hot tub. I can’t thank Thomas enough for the grace and hospitality he provided, and the incredible night sleep I got at the end of the journey.