By Bill Wood
This article appeared in the August 2004 issue of American Motorcyclist.
Marietta, Ga., is a good place to start a motorcycle ride.
Located just far enough northwest of Atlanta to let you quickly leave city traffic behind, it’s the origin for a number of back roads that take you through small towns and, eventually, into the wooded hills of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Cruising slowly down Kennesaw Avenue, paralleling the railroad tracks, I can make out the dim shapes of antebellum homes on my left. Out of town, the road turns into a tunnel of trees, with my headlight illuminating a precise conical section of it.
The tracks, and the road, make a wide, sweeping curve around Kennesaw Mountain, showing up as a darker mass of black under a sky made charcoal gray by the light of a waning quarter moon.
I’m headed toward the town of Kennesaw, Ga., and motor into it under cover of darkness, pulling up to the corner of Main Street and Cherokee Street.
It’s quiet in Kennesaw as I settle on a park bench right next to the steel rails. Across the street, the Kennesaw Whistlestop Cafe is giving off delicious coffee and bakery smells as it prepares for opening in about a half-hour.
Following the tracks out of town in the growing light of dawn, I know where I’m headed, some 90 miles up the road in the direction of Chattanooga, but I don’t have a particular route in mind. The plan is just to follow the rails as closely as possible.
U.S. Route 41 roughly follows the same course as the old Western & Atlantic Railroad, now the CSX line. But the key there is “roughly.” In places, it’s miles from the tracks. Plus, it’s a straight, ugly four-lane road punctuated by stoplights and mini-malls.
Instead, I motor along Moon Station Road, a name I recognize, with the railroad on my right. Eventually, that road runs out, and I pick up another on the other side.
Pretty soon, I develop a simple navigation system. If the railroad tracks disappear to the right, I take the next right. If they disappear to the left, I turn left. I can hardly get lost, since I know the tracks go where I’m headed. It’s like a poor man’s GPS.
My route takes me on a series of back roads that eventually leads to State Route 293 near the town of Acworth. At one point, I get a sweeping view of the tracks. The road I’m on narrows into a tiny country lane lined with cottages. I idle along, knowing that this route along the east side of the railroad tracks is about to turn into a dead end.
Sure enough, I get no more than a half-mile farther and find that Grovers Landing Road becomes a boat ramp on Allatoona Lake. I pull up a few feet from the edge and look out over the water.
Fog rises off the lake, backlit by the rising sun. Fishermen dangle lines from a few small boats, creating the only ripples on the glass-smooth surface. I’m just 30 miles from downtown Atlanta, but this seems like a totally different world.
I hear a noise to my left, the sound of a train approaching. It’s a CSX freight heading north. Soon, it emerges from the trees, and I watch it cross the lake on rails supported by stone piers.
Minutes later, I’m on the outskirts of Cartersville, crossing the Etowah River on Route 41. Through here, the rail line has been relocated from its original course, meaning that CSX trains run by on my left. Just past the river crossing, I bank right onto Old River Road, which follows the course of a long-gone spur line that connected to the main Western & Atlantic route here.
State Route 293 follows the railroad pretty closely out of Cartersville, but as I reach Kingston, I turn off onto Railroad Avenue. This takes me right through the oldest section of this tiny town. Then the tracks veer to the right of Route 293, and once again, I find myself on a back road I’d never have discovered if I weren’t searching out history.
This one is called Old Halls Station Road, and it’s barely wide enough for a car and a motorcycle to pass each other. Fortunately, there’s no traffic as I make my way north toward Adairsville.
I find myself subconsciously quickening my own pace. From Calhoun north, Route 41 runs as close to the tracks as almost anything, so I get on the four-lane and make time.
I pull up at the Oostenaula bridge, just south of the town of Resaca. Much of the structure is new, but a couple of the pilings date to the Civil War. Back then, this was a covered wooden bridge.
Several miles up the road, I pause at the beautiful old stone train station in the town of Ringgold, then pick up State Route 151 heading straight north out of town.
The railroad tracks are just a few yards to my left. The road is empty, and I take it slow.
Then I get on Interstate 75, headed north. Destination: the corner of Holtzclaw and Balley avenues in Chattanooga, Tenn.
It’s nearly sunset when I turn off Interstate 24 and follow surface streets to a U.S. National Cemetery. Here, the bodies of some 37,000 soldiers have been laid to rest.
I park the bike and walk over to pay my respects to the memory of these men. I should be going, but I linger, thinking of the past. Home can wait a little longer.