November 4, 2015 | Freddy Taul | OverlandingUSA.com
At approximately 4pm on Friday October 23 the Overlanding USA team embarked on Expedition Alabama (XAL).
It was the first of what will be multiple trips in an effort to create a back roads route around the state of Alabama. The idea for XAL began months ago after I first learned of the Trans America Trail. I quickly found some roads close to the house but never made much progress after that. As Ruston and I were trying to plan a trip in October I pitched the idea of working on this project. We both agreed this was what we needed to do, which meant I had a lot of work to do!
Hours upon hours went into searching for roads to piece together a route as far north as I could take it. After all was said and done I had mapped from my house in Saraland up to a small town called Eldridge, AL. There was no way to know how long it would take us to drive that distance and we had to hope there weren’t many obstacles along the way. I recruited my friend Austin to navigate for us knowing he would enjoy the trip and be a huge asset to the team.
Friday came and it was time to hit the trail. We all met at my house to do final vehicle prep and loading. An awning needed to be installed on my vehicle and Austin had to set up his computer and other equipment to navigate. We were ready to roll by 4pm and soon we were on the VERY dusty trail as there had been little rain in October.
Saturday was going to be a big push to cover as much ground as possible. We crossed the Tombigbee River into Coffeeville and headed towards the Scotch Wildlife Management Area.
From there we rolled on towards Demopolis arriving in time for lunch. After fueling up and eating it was time to get moving again. Just east of Demopolis we encountered the worst stretch of road during the trip, and it was paved! I later told Austin to remove that section from the route. It was really that bad.
The next major section we were looking forward to was the Oakmulgee district of the Talladega National Forest.
Here we found some nice trails winding through beautiful fall colored trees. You could spend a weekend exploring the roads through that place but we had to stay on mission. Tuscaloosa was next, and thankfully we passed through just after kickoff of the Tennessee/Alabama game. By now we realized that reaching Eldridge was not just a possibility but a reality.
The roads from Tuscaloosa to Eldridge were definitely the most scenic roads we drove all weekend. One section took us past several fields with old barns sitting below some large hills. Wildlife was in abundance too as we saw several turkeys. We encountered our only obstacle all weekend when we came upon a “Road Closed” sign. Curiosity demanded we check it out and the road was gated off. Austin found us another way and the journey continued.
Next stop: Eldridge.
We were losing daylight by the time we reached Eldridge but thankfully there was enough left to take some pictures in a neat tunnel running under some train tracks just south of town. This was a big milestone for the team. My only regret was not mapping out more, but like I said, there was no way to know how long it would take to reach Eldridge. After so many hours of planning I was thrilled we made it that far by Saturday evening with barely any issues.
The Bankhead National Forest was just up the road so that’s where we made camp Saturday night. We all enjoyed a relaxing night after a long, successful day of driving. Sunday morning was slow going.
We took time to view the sights around the lake and make plans for the day. Ruston took the lead out that morning as Austin was navigating on the fly. We drove until lunch time and found some nice roads but I will be going back to the maps to find a better route from Eldridge. The Bankhead took us farther east than we would like. We parted ways in Muscle Shoals. Ruston was off to Tuscaloosa while Austin and I drove on to Florence for lunch and to visit the Alabama Outdoors store there. We then headed south to Saraland.
XAL is off to a great start and we look forward to the next trip. In the mean time I have a lot of work to do. Route planning is very tedious but very rewarding in the end. As we cover more ground we will update the route on our website so you can check it out for yourself.
In all that we do with Overlanding USA we hope to inspire others to get out and explore the world around them starting right outside your back door. That’s how this all began. So, load up your car, hit the trail, and find places you never knew were there!