Warm Springs, Georgia Shamrock Tour®: FDR’s Backyard
It’s early in the season, the end of April, when we leave home on two very agile, comfortable, and fun-loving sport-touring bikes to go on our first long trip of the year. Christa rides a 2003 BMW F 650 GS, and I’m on my 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650R. Warm Springs, GA, is a region rich in history and our designated home-base for the next several days.
It’s warmer than expected, and an enjoyable ride until a flat tire on the Ninja interrupts our momentum. But even this hiccup doesn’t curb our anticipation of the next few days. With a quick stop at a nearby gas station to repair the leak, we’re once again on our way. When finally we arrive at our destination, the sun has nearly disappeared beneath the horizon.
Hotel Warm Springs is hard to miss, as it’s the biggest building on Broad Street. Hotel owner, Gerrie Thomson, welcomes us warmly and delivers us to our room, which feels a bit like time travel. Built in 1907, the hotel showcases an era of days gone by with its authentic restoration and memorabilia. Gerrie tells us she bought the hotel some 20 years earlier after it had been abandoned and decaying for quite a while. At the height of the Roosevelt era, many a king and queen, VIPs such as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR’s secret service men, and Hollywood’s finest, walked these halls. Given the late hour, tonight’s dinner will consist of beef jerky and crackers. Still, our excitement for the rides ahead never wanes.
The smell of freshly fried eggs, homemade grits, and coffee lures us in to the breakfast room where we’re greeted by our energetic host once again. Gerrie’s charming southern accent and her easy way with visitors make us feel like family. Yet, it’s more than the warm southern hospitality that sets this hotel as a destination for so many. The area offers some of the best hiking, fishing, golfing, and even artsy opportunities.
Despite the conversation and good food, we’re eager to get to our first loop. The sky still looks a bit milky, but already the haze is burning off. Heading south, Whitehouse Highway intersects with 190 where we turn east and follow the tree-lined pavement as it winds through the slight hills. Going south in Thomaston, a two-lane street appears a perfect asphalt ribbon rolling out in front of us, offering a panorama of the countryside. With scarce traffic on these roads, our ride is relaxed and our engines purr happily. I take a deep breath and smell the rich scent of spring.
Motorcycles and Gear:
2003 BMW F 650 GS
2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650R
Helmet: Vemar Jiano EVO, Shoei Multi-Tec
Jacket & Pants: Alpinestars Frontier GORE-TEX, Macna Lunar, and Onyx 2
Boots: Forma Horizon, Sidi Livia Rain
Gloves: REV’IT!, Joe Rocket
We pass through several picturesque small towns, each one reminiscent of the one before it. In Ellaville, we stop to refuel and grab a bite. It feels good to stretch the legs and walk. Life seems to stand still here, or at least it moves at a slower pace without much hustle and bustle. After lunch, 26 takes us to Buena Vista. From there, it’s 41 to Talbotton, then finally west on 208 back to our hotel.
Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park
The FDR State Park is Georgia’s largest, and it’s located right outside of Warm Springs. Outdoor aficionados love it for its many trails, but it’s also a destination for tourists. And for motorcyclists, 190, which intersects the rolling mountains of the park, is a popular stretch of playground full of curves and natural beauty. Gerrie pulled out a map for us earlier, noting directions to make sure we didn’t miss it. Although lesser known than the Blue Ridge Parkway, 190 displays astounding fall foliage each year. We’re thankful it’s springtime with no leafpeepers in sight!
A very early start has us turning right on 190. Snaking through the green deciduous forest are black and chestnut oak, hickories, and shortleaf pine. A playground it is indeed! We swing through the turns, left and right, then another left, shift down, lean and smoothly open the throttle again. Awesome fun! Yet, remaining ever-alert is critical since wildlife can be an obstacle where the trees stand so close to the tarmac.
At Dowdell’s Knob, the highest point on Pine Mountain at 1,395 feet, we stop at the overlook. This was one of FDR’s favorite places to picnic. Standing at the heels of history, admiring the expansive view to Oak Mountain and beyond, it’s easy to understand why President Roosevelt cherished this spot so much. A life-sized sculpture of the president greets visitors today, daring all to resist the photo-op.
All this tracking of the past makes us hungry. Callaway Gardens Country Store provides us a table near the window overlooking the wide open plains to the west. After a hearty country omelet and hot coffee, we’re good to go again.