I've had the fortune of spending time with family throughout the southeast over the past few weeks. My sister's house and all the associated animals were a real joy to have around for my all too short stay. Seeing my nephew grow up so fast is just another reminder to have fun and be alive, inquisitive and absorbing. Working closer toward "home", I find myself approaching familiar places, roads and spaces of the southeast. Spring is delightfully approaching in blooming redbuds, daffodils and forsythia.
Dad and I visited the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw. The exhibits were well done and illustrated much of the equipment, life and movement of lines throughout the Civil War. An important piece of history lay in the museum, a Steam locomotive by the name of The General. It was involved in "The Great Locomotive Chase", a fascinating piece of early war history when a band of under-cover union soldiers boarded then stole the locomotive from Big Shanty, just outside Kennesaw. The concept of stealing a locomotive just seems so preposterous and I admire their tenacity and courage. Pursued by William Fuller and his men, The General eventually ran out of wood and water, losing steam pressure and stranding them before reaching their destination of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The men were all caught and executed. They were posthumously awarded some of the earliest Medals of Honor.
Growing closer to the Virginia area and the familiar territory will only be a rest stop and time to rebuild La Tortuga. Come June, I plan to head north toward Canada's northeastern provinces to ride the Trans-Labrador Hwy and spend a more extensive visit on the island of Newfoundland. Nova Scotia is indeed beautiful that time of year. To imagine the variety of landscapes, roads and sunsets still to behold is a comforting thought, that is travel, adventure and life.
After leaving Birmingham, I headed north toward the country and the beautiful lower reaches of the Appalachian mountains. I was introduced to Martha and Stephen by my buddy Ken from Alaska. Their home, a yurt turned into a dodecagon, is situated among a mixed forest of southern pines and deciduous trees beside a terraced pasture. Fruit and nut trees as well as two well planned garden plots on either side of the home supply abundant produce seasonally. Welcomed with open arms by the warmhearted couple, we spent much time discussing lifestyles, homes, sustainability and the noise of modernity. Their hand built home is one of a handful of unique structures on Common Ground, their 80 acre intentional community. Yurts, sustainable small structures and even a subterranean home speak to the creativity of inhabitants, architectural whimsy and an eye toward the future. Their homes are built with a passive solar design, high insulation R-Values and many have solar panels. While visiting I had the opportunity to cut some firewood for next winter, move some items to the burn pile, go for a few walks around the property and learn more about a life closer to the earth.
The cool rainy morning found me scooting around Birmingham looking for something to do. I had attempted to find the entrance to Sloss Furnaces last night but only uncovered locked gates. All gates were open this morning in preparation for a 5k Run the next day and I parked underneath the Hwy 11 overpass. The Sloss Furnace has been converted from an active pig iron furnace and industrial site into a National Historical Landmark with interpretive center and self-guided tour. The Sloss furnaces prospered in the late 19th century and early 20th century, benefiting from the choice location near the three main materials used in the process: limestone, iron ore and coal. The expansion of rail lines into and through Birmingham further facilitated the transport of resources into Sloss and the export of formed iron "pigs" to customers abroad.
Exploring the immense facility alone in the early morning hours allowed for a quiet and contemplative learning opportunity. Walking down hundred year old metal stairs sagging with the boots of burlier men, trudging through dripping and dark tunnels underneath the facility or ascending swaying rust-colored cat walks above the steam plant, I was like a kid in an adult size playground. The photographic opportunities were abundant, forcing me to often reconsider just "what" to photograph and how.
If you ever make it to Birmingham, the Sloss Furnaces offer an impressive opportunity to connect with the ghosts of industry long past. Although the heat and deafening sounds of the furnace have long since ceased, the story echoes on in the well preserved space, a reminder that they "just don't make em like they used to".
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.