Barber has come and gone, which is why I thought it was time to share a tale from reader David Sumner about a previous ride out to the historic show.
Six riders met on Thursday at 8:30 for breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Gainesville, FL. Four of us had already covered 150 miles. This was our “riding day”. This was the fifth pilgrimage to the Barber Museum Vintage Festival for Bob Shields (MSTA- BMW K1200S), Jonathan Owen (H-D Lowrider) and me (MSTA- Goldwing). Our traditional M.O. had been to ride straight to Barber in one day. This time was to be different.
Don Allen (BMW R1200RT) had suggested that we stay Thursday night at Cheaha Lodge, about one hour east of our destination. Additionally, I had suggested that we take a sizable detour to ride Highways 275 and 176 alongside the spectacular Little River Canyon near Ft. Payne, AL. Both suggestions were approved by the group. Our other two riders were Bob’s son Bobby (Honda VFR800) and Spanky Mahoney (H-D Ultra Classic).
We made it to Cheaha Lodge just before sunset. The lodge lies at the crest of Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama at about 2400 feet. The view from the sheer western cliff to the plains below afforded a breathtaking sunset. It was a clear evening and we could make out cities and villages for many miles around. The stone lodge itself has full accommodations, including a restaurant. There are also cabins and chalets available for rent, some with multiple bedrooms. Several walking trails are scattered around the mountain. We chose the Bald Rock trail which was ablaze with autumn colors. Visit www.alapark.com/cheaharesort for full info.
Afterward we saddled up and rode 75 miles north to the intersection of Highways 273 and 275, the southern entrance to Little River Canyon. See www.nps.gov/liri/index.htm for basic info. This point is about ten miles northeast of Leesburg, AL. The weather was slightly damp. We hit a few pockets of light misty rain, but not enough to deter us from our pursuit. Coming at Highway 275 from this end is not for the faint of heart. Spanky and I had been on this coiled viper of a road once before, so we knew what to expect. No matter – it still raised the hair on our necks the second time! The first couple miles have a strong vertical element. Advice to riders: Keep the throttle twisted in a lower gear and you will arrive safely at the summit of the first climb. Don’t crowd each other. Keep eyes wide and hook to the right.
There is a second climb from a bridge at the bottom of a valley. This climb is oddly paved with concrete rather than asphalt. Perhaps there were limitations with conventional road building equipment. There is an inconvenient stop sign at the top of this one. Having passed this second trial, were able to relax and enjoy the scenery along this corkscrew road. You won’t believe you are in Alabama! Little River Canyon accompanied us on our right side for the entire distance. We pulled off a couple times to gather ourselves and to enjoy the various overlooks into the 600 foot deep gorge. The timing of the Barber Vintage Festival is perfect for leaf peeping in the area. This roadside was afire with fall color! There were a few fallen leaves on the road but not enough to be disturbing. We enjoyed miles and miles of hoopties and tight curves enveloped in vibrant autumn splendor.
At the north end of Highway 176 we intersected with Highway 35. Then, in the immortal words of Ron Popeil, ”But wait! There’s more!” We turned right onto 35, crossed the bridge over Little River and pulled into the parking lot on the other side. We descended a long stairway to Little River Falls. This is a strikingly photogenic setting – a place to calm our hearts after our exhilarating roller coaster ride. This 24 mile stretch has all the curves, double the length and triple the beauty of the Dragon’s Tail!
As the Vintage Festival was our target Friday night, we set off to I-59 and tackled the 110 mile ride to our digs, the Quality Inn, Pelham, south of Birmingham. I was initially underwhelmed about this location. It was a 23 mile commute to Barber via the super slab. But – Bob Shields had another route planned – via Highway 119. This turned out to be a more direct route, 20 miles, but instead of being surrounded by Peterbuilt’s and Freightliner’s, we were treated to intermittent canopies of trees. We crossed over to Rex Road via Bailey Road, a short but interesting single-lane mountain pass. Bob had a near miss with a pair of does on the climb over. Once on Rex Road, we were only a couple miles from Barber. Sweet!
The Barber Vintage Festival experience was, as always, magnificent. Every year George Barber and his staff bring improvements and enhancements to the event. The venue is warm and welcoming. If you ever go, you will certainly return again and again. As we riders know, the journey plays the major part in the overall enjoyment of the quest. That’s why we sometimes take the long way ‘round.
Shiny Side Up!