Riding his wife’s hybrid Schwinn, the grandfather and church pastor cycled one mile on the Chief Ladiga Trail for each year he’s been alive. Beard said just three years ago a 72-mile ride seemed like an insurmountable task, but that changed when he started riding with David Bowers, 66, who celebrates his birthday the same way.
“Come to find out about it, it’s something a lot of people do,” Beard said, while resting beneath a pavilion at Germania Springs. “It’s easier to train for something if you have a goal.”
The Chief Ladiga Trail is just 33 miles long but the men developed a route to get each mile in. The pair started at Beard’s Piedmont home and rode east to the state line, then peddled west to Weaver and rode back to Beard’s home again.
Beard’s and Bowers have become especially used to training in recent months. The men said they began training for Beard’s birthday ride between two and three months ago.
Since then they have cycled around 40 miles each week, about three times a week. Sometimes they trained together, and sometimes they trained alone. But Beard had never cycled as far as 72 miles until Monday when the men teamed up for the birthday ride.
Beard’s bike was outfitted with a pair of water bottles. He wore athletic shorts with a neon-green Chief Ladiga Trail shirt from the Eubanks Welcome Center in Piedmont. A tiny rear-view mirror extended in front of his face from a black-and-red helmet.
Bowers’ Trek fitness bike was outfitted with packages, with a cell phone, a few bike tools, a camera and his lunch – an energy bar.
The two men said they’d seen a lot of wildlife, held a lot of conversations about the Bible and encountered more than one challenge since they began cycling together.
“We get to do a lot of talking about everything in the world,” Bowers said.
The men talked about the rattlesnake they scared away from the trail last week in Cleburne County. They recalled the wild game they’ve spotted and said that they once saw a bald eagle swoop down into a field as they cycled.
“It was in a pasture and that was a beautiful sight,” Bowers said.
They have also encountered a few challenges, climbing hills on a ride on the Silver Comet in Georgia and pedaling through storms.
“We’ve been rained on a time or two,” Beard said. “Sitting on top of a bike in a lightning storm just doesn’t sound like it makes good sense.”
The pair said they’ve cycled on every inch of the Chief Ladiga Trail and the Silver Comet Trail, to which the Ladiga connects at the Georgia state line. And they’ve become well acquainted with the path from one end to the other.
Bowers and Beard know, too, that they are as likely to run into an acquaintance as a stranger on the trail.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people come here from good distances,” Bowers said. “I imagine we’ve met people from foreign countries and don’t know it.”
And, they can say with certainty that the eastern half of the trail is the prettiest, and that the closer they are to Weaver the more joggers they see.
“This trail, I’m in love with it,” Bowers said. “This trail will spoil you.”
The men like the local trail so much that they don’t even consider riding on another one unless it, like the Ladiga, is part of a Rails-to-Trails project. Asked if they’d consider going off road onto a mountain bike trail for their next ride, the pair had sure answer.
“I’m too fat and too old,” Bowers said.
Dean saw it the same way.
“Ditto,” he said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.