Fleeing south on Interstate 85, I'm feeling relieved to have, once again, successfully completed another circumnavigation of the city of Atlanta. The sheet-metal maelstrom known as Interstate 285, encircling the Capital of the South, arguably has the capacity to supply more "interesting moments" than any road in the country. With the sun slowly making its way toward the horizon, I'm confident of a much more relaxing pace in the gently sloping mountains around Warm Springs, Georgia.
In most major cities, there's a general consistency to the traffic flow. Sure, it's fast and furious, but manic attitudes carry the day and nearly everyone is on the same page. Things are different on Atlanta's beltway. Shiny new Escalades piloted by young, Bluetooth® and power-tied professionals regularly do the 90-mph weave between Uncle Floyd and Aunt Dorothy's 54-mph Buick and dilapidated Nixon-era pickups overloaded with cordwood or peaches headed to market. Throw in a good helping of 18-wheelers along with terminally late soccer moms and motorized mayhem is all but guaranteed. Making it around to I-85 south with equipment, limbs, and sanity all intact inspires a guttural sigh of relief that nearly ejects my face shield.
Once I've veered onto Route 27, the slab's monotonous grip is pried loose by a stretch of country two-lane much more in keeping with the nimble disposition of the Honda 599. After the hubbub and stress encountered on the big road, the remaining 30 or so miles to Warm Springs seem to pass too quickly; and despite the leafless trees backing the calendar's pronouncement that it's still early spring, the sun has managed to bathe the day with temperatures nearing 80 degrees. Still, a room is a welcome find before nightfall. Though this is the Deep South, temperatures at this time of year can quickly become inhospitable as darkness approaches.
After securing digs for the night at the clean and quiet Meriwether Country Inn, just a stone's throw from downtown, I'm stirred by the balmy temperatures to shake off a bit of the winter rust and stroll around diminutive Warm Springs. A number of specialty shops, small eateries, and plenty of local color can be found in the century-old buildings; and for a touch of Southern charm, one can while away some time seated in the community rocking chairs that share the sidewalk with merchants' goods, or you can wander into Mac's Barbecue.If you like it spicy, be sure to try the hot sauce. I double-dog dare you.
Still Waters, Quiet Roads
Though the morning dawns a bit chilly, I'm convinced the lingering effects of last night's cauterizing condiment is enough to keep the jacket liner in the saddlebags. I motor south out of town on Route 27 tolerating a slight shiver, confident that the rising sun will be clocking in soon. Hanging a right on Route 190, I find the 599 suddenly enticed by mountainous twists that are just the ticket to get the day started. The smooth asphalt winds across the ridge tops in a series of bends that slot nicely between aggressive and relaxing riding modes. Following the signs to Dowdell's Knob, I wind up on a point of land facing south over the Pine Mountain Valley. A lonely, stone grill, built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, stands as a reminder of the fondness our 32nd president had for Dowdell's Knob and the region. Mr. Roosevelt loved to picnic here during his visits to Warm Springs and, it is said, he used this location for quiet deliberations about the execution of World War II and the formation of the United Nations.
Dropping into the valley on Route 27, I meander west toward the Chattahoochee River, riding through shady groves of magnolia and stands of spindly pines, eventually turning south toward Columbus on Route 219. Urban sprawl can deter the most stalwart of travelers from continuing into a city center; but, with the lunch hour ticking away, my disdain for the fast food predominating on the periphery drives me toward the heart of town. As it turns out, I'm glad I made the effort. Downtown Columbus is in shambles, and I mean that in a good way - major renovations are underway to preserve the city's eclectic mix of turn-of-the-century industrial buildings and 1950s-era department store facades.