By cycle and by canoe, David Haynes and his canine companions Bailey and Roscoe have seen some of Alabama’s greatest natural places.
On Monday, March 4, Haynes will share their travel stories during a special evening program at the Houston Cole Library on the Jacksonville State University campus.
The author of Motorcycling Alabama, Fifty Loops Through the Heart of Dixie is an independent commercial photographer and journalist from Blount Springs who has spent his career documenting the people and places of Alabama. At Monday’s program sponsored by the Friends of the Houston Cole Library, he will share his stories and photos from the roads and rivers of Alabama, including highlights from a 45-day, 631-mile canoe trip he took down the Alabama Scenic River Trail last spring with the golden retrievers.
Unlike many author events that lean toward novelists, this program will appeal to the adventurer in all of us. With spring just a few weeks away and cabin fever setting in, now is the perfect time to seek inspiration and begin planning those weekend daytrips.
And there are plenty of routes to choose in Motorcycling Alabama. The 50 loops in the book cover 4,860 miles and carry the reader through some of the state’s most beautiful scenery, past many roadside attractions that even native Alabamians may not know exist.
The book is not just for bikers. Haynes says many people have told him that they explore the state by Jeep or SUV and find the book the perfect traveling companion.
"I actually borrowed a pencil from a woman at a campground up at Brushy Lake who saw the dogs and recognized us,” Haynes recalls. “It turned out she didn't ride a motorcycle but she'd bought the book to keep in her car.”
The book grew from a regular column Haynes penned for Alabama Living magazine called "Alabama Motorcycle Diaries." Each time he rode, he'd go somewhere that was interesting and off the beaten path. "The shtick was that I'd explore Alabama from the bike," he says. He sometimes thought about turning the column into a book but never pursued it. Then one day the phone rang and the book found him. It was the University of Alabama Press, asking for his help in putting together a guidebook for Alabama motorcyclists because one had never been written.
That was in late summer 2007. For the next two years, Haynes rode and camped his way around the state, piggybacking his magazine stories with scouting for the book. By day, he rode. By night, he mapped out his route by campfire light. When he turned in his manuscript, the real work began.
"Each of the 50 rides has an accompanying map," he explains. To ensure accuracy, the University of Alabama’s cartography department took the maps Haynes had created in Google maps and pieced together in Photoshop, then checked them for accuracy.
"It was not like writing a novel where you just have to deal with grammar," Haynes explains. "There can be multiple names for the same landmark, depending on which map you consult. It can get very meticulous.
"The total mileage for all the routes is between 75-150 miles long, and they average right around 100 miles. Each turn on each of the maps is broken down into tenths of a mile." That translated into a lot of landmarks that had to be crosschecked. Each map also includes the GPS coordinates.
Along with the routes and maps are narratives and photos that highlight places of interest on each route. A companion website, motorcyclingalabama.info, serves as an extension of the book and is updated regularly with route changes and other helpful information.
After the publication of Motorcycling Alabama in 2011, Haynes began looking for another way to explore the state. This time, he gathered Bailey and Roscoe and headed for Cedar Bluff, where they put their canoe in on the Coosa near the Georgia line. Forty-five days later, they emerged near Fort Morgan and the Gulf of Mexico.
Although floating a state’s river system sounds idyllic, there were plenty of details that needed to be attended to pre-trip, including teaching Bailey and Roscoe how to handle loud noises without capsizing the canoe. Simple logistics like stashing dog food along the route became complicated when Haynes learned en route that some of the dog food had been recalled. And Bailey proved to be a bit of a diva in the canoe.
“The dogs would lie down in the canoe and sleep most of the time. Roscoe rode in the front for most of the trip and he was fine with that. But Bailey craves petting all the time so I had to let her sit by me,” he says with a laugh.
“When it rained, I’d have to bail the water out of the canoe because Bailey wouldn’t sit in the rain. And she always had to have a treat.”
Easy going Roscoe would stretch and then plop down, but he never plopped down in the center of the canoe, Haynes says. It was up to Haynes to shift weight around to keep them upright.
As they camped their way through the state, the three made friends at every stop, which Haynes chronicled on his Facebook page. A Carbonala guitar accompanied them and kept them company when faces were few and far between.
They ran into a lot of rain but Haynes says it was not a problem unless there was lightning or a really violent thunderstorm. They simply got out of the water and waited it out. The only real rough patch came as they were navigating into Mobile Bay. Bad weather stranded them for three days at Meaher State Park before they were able to complete their journey near Fort Morgan.
To hear more about Haynes’ trips and meet Bailey and Roscoe, plan to attend Monday night’s program, which begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public, as are refreshments. Copies of Haynes’ book will be available for purchase and signing at the event.
For more about the Friends of the Houston Cole Library, visit www.jsu.edu/library/friends.